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What about Fair Trial?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

What about Fair Trial?

Article excerpt

A LEADING CRIMINAL defense attorney has accused the news media of "killing" the Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial by their aggressive coverage that fixes guilt on suspects before trial.

Lawyers "cherish your First Amendment and would campaign to protect it, but you have turned your back on ours," said Larry Pozner, a Colorado attorney and president-elect of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, at the annual convention of the Society of Professional Journalists, in Denver, earlier this month.

"You love running crime stories and showing our clients going to court," he said on a panel, entitled, "Free Press, Fair Trial: Does Media Attention Jeopardize Justice?" Moderator Lucy Dalglish, a Minneapolis attorney, called Denver an appropriate setting for such a discussion; given the recent Oklahoma City bombing trial of Timothy McVeigh, the current trial of his alleged accomplice, Terry Nichols, and the investigation into the murder of JonBenet Ramsey in nearby Boulder.

Pozner contended that potential jurors can be influenced by photos of a defendant doing the "perp walk" -- referring to alleged crime perpetrators walking into court shackles. "Even in the courthouse you chase us down the hallways," he complained.

Pozner also blasted the publishing of "suppressed evidence, rumors, innuendoes and hearsay."

"We can live with a little self-censorship, but we cannot live with a diminution of justice," Pozner said.

"More and more, everything about crime is fair game and you leave it to the judges to repair the damage. We're going to run out of the ability to repair the damage. You are too powerful but you will miss justice when it disappears."

Two media panelist suggested that Pozner's concerns were greatly exaggerated. Jack Mackenzie, news director of KCNC-TV, Denver, noted that during the McVeigh trial 70% of the pictures aired by his station consisted of courtroom sketches while about 30% were "walk shots," and views of a Kansas motel and a rental truck used by McVeigh.

Restraint also was employed in the Ramsey case, he said, adding, "The picture of JonBenet is as compelling as it needs to get. That little girl's face is the only image we have to know."

Tony Frost, editor of the Globe, said the supermarket tabloid takes care to protect Sixth Amendment rights. "We take these things into consideration," he added.

Frost opined that coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial refuted Pozner's charges. "The tabloids and the mainstream press published a slew of articles that pointed to O.J. being guilty before the trial, yet he was acquitted," he said. …

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