Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Evidence in Fernandez Case Protected; Judge Agrees with Defense, Saying It Would Threaten the Boy's Right to a Fair Trial

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Evidence in Fernandez Case Protected; Judge Agrees with Defense, Saying It Would Threaten the Boy's Right to a Fair Trial

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Schoettler

A judge prevented critical evidence from being publicized in the Cristian Fernandez suppression hearing Thursday after agreeing with the defense that releasing videotaped interrogations and related testimony would threaten his right to a fair trial.

Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper granted the motion, filed late Wednesday afternoon without notice of a hearing, despite the objections of a prosecutor and a media lawyer in the courtroom. The filing was listed as a motion to receive certain evidence in camera, meaning they sought to keep it from the public.

The ruling kept the public and reporters from hearing chunks of testimony from two detectives, including a homicide detective who interviewed Fernandez.

The cases against Fernandez involve the death of his 2-year-old half brother, David Galarraga, and the sexual molestation of a 5-year-old half brother. The defense is trying to get evidence suppressed, including two police interrogations, before Fernandez goes to trial.

The sexual battery case is set for trial first on Aug. 27. The murder trial is set for Sept. 10.

Cooper closed the courtroom several times after the detectives briefly described how they got involved in the case and their interaction with Fernandez before he was interviewed.

The courtrooms were closed for several hours as each detective testified and while a DVD of the interrogation in the murder case was played.

Defense attorneys sought to close the courtroom after filing a series of other detailed motions this week that questioned how police conducted their interviews and whether Fernandez could understand his Constitutional rights. The attorneys did not object to the public hearing their cross-examination of the homicide detective on those matters.

The earlier motions, saying Fernandez was coerced by detectives, included passages of interviews conducted with him that the defense used to support its motion to suppress the interrogations. …

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