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Wyo. Judge OKs Lifelong Gag Order

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Wyo. Judge OKs Lifelong Gag Order

Article excerpt

'mckinney plea' may be cited in controversial cases

A Wyoming judge has signed a controversial and apparently unprecedented sentencing agreement that prevents the convicted killer of gay college student Matthew Shepard from ever discussing the case with reporters.

At first a little-noticed coda to the highly emotional trial of one of the two men who brutally beat Shepard and left him to die tied to a split-rail prairie fence, the agreement that spared Aaron McKinney from a possible death penalty has alarmed increasing numbers of journalists and civil-rights activists because of its lifelong gag order on McKinney, his public defenders, and other defense-team members.

"It's unprecedented. It's one thing to gag the lawyers or the parties during an ongoing proceeding because you're concerned about something getting out in the press. But after it's over, it's unthinkable to not let the direct participants talk about this very important case. This is just bizarre, unprecedented, and dangerous," said Leon Friedman, the Hofstra University law professor who successfully challenged the constitutionality of New York state's "Son of Sam" law in 1991.

District Judge Barton R. Voigt, who presided over the murder trial of the 22-year-old McKinney, signed the sentencing order Nov. 12, and filed it six days later. The order's filing was not disclosed until a Dec. 9 article by Becky Orr in the Cheyenne-based Wyoming Tribune- Eagle. "Mr. McKinney further agrees to refrain from talking to any news media organizations regarding State v. …

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