Heinze Lawyers Try to Block Media; Attorneys Want Pretrial Hearings Closed and Court Records Sealed

By Stepzinski, Teresa | The Florida Times Union, October 16, 2009 | Go to article overview

Heinze Lawyers Try to Block Media; Attorneys Want Pretrial Hearings Closed and Court Records Sealed


Stepzinski, Teresa, The Florida Times Union


Byline: TERESA STEPZINSKI

BRUNSWICK - Attorneys for a Brunswick man charged with beating to death eight people at their home want a judge to close all pretrial hearings to the public and news media.

Guy Heinze Jr.'s lawyers also are asking Chief Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams to seal all court records and transcripts at least until after a jury is empaneled and sequestered in the death penalty case.

In addition, Joseph Vigneri and Charles Nester want cameras banned from the courtroom and are seeking a gag order on all attorneys, witnesses, law enforcement personnel and court staff involved in the case.

The measures are necessary to "control prejudicial publicity" and ensure the 22-year-old construction worker receives a fair trial, Vigneri and Nester said in a written motion filed Sept. 28, when they entered the case.

Saying the motion "speaks for itself," Vigneri declined further comment Thursday.

"There has been massive, highly prejudicial publicity on both the local and national scale regarding this case," they said in the motion.

More prejudicial information will become public if the court proceedings remain open, and the resulting news media coverage will trigger a recounting of events in the case, they wrote.

They called past news coverage "wide-ranging and prejudicial" and said it threatens the possibility of Heinze getting a fair trial.

Unless their motion is granted, there is no way to preserve Heinze's right to a fair trial, the attorneys wrote.

District Attorney Stephen Kelley said Thursday he had not reviewed the motion, which was among a series filed by the defense team, because until last week he had been tied up in the David Edenfield death penalty trial.

Georgia law, however, sets a high standard for closing court proceedings, Kelley said.

"The law is the courts are open but it is a balancing act. Generally, we urge the [judge] in most cases not to exclude the public or news media," he said.

Kelley also said if court proceedings are open to the public, then sealing the records and transcripts is not necessary.

David Hudson, legal counsel for the Georgia Press Association, could not be reached for comment. Hudson represented the Times-Union and other news media in the David Edenfield case, in which defense lawyers tried to close pretrial proceedings.

In his successful argument, Hudson cited a precedent-setting Georgia Supreme Court ruling that the presumptive right to public access to criminal proceedings trumps even the U.S. Constitution.

Vigneri and Nester of Brunswick are with the Georgia Capital Defender's Office, which represent defendants in death penalty cases in Georgia who cannot afford to hire a private attorney.

Heinze is charged with eight counts of malice murder, and aggravated assault with intent to commit murder in the severe beating of 3-year-old Byron Jimerson Jr. …

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