Media ban debated in case of Estates teen accused of killing parents

Should media be banned from the Alex Crain trial?

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— Southwest Florida’s news leaders are firing back.

In response to a filing made by Alex Crain’s attorneys to exclude all photographic and electronic media from the trial, the Naples Daily News, the News-Press and Waterman Broadcasting - which includes NBC-2 and ABC-7, have filed a motion to oppose.

On Friday, Judge Frederick Hardt will rule if the Alex Crain trial is in fact too hot for the media.

A date has not yet been set for the 15-year-old accused of killing his parents in December. But, if his attorneys’ request is accepted, electronic media would be excluded from all pre-trial or trial proceedings.

On June 24, Crain’s attorneys’ filed a motion at the Collier Circuit Court stating that allowing electronic media will deny Crain’s rights to a “fair and impartial trial and due process of law.”

In response, the Daily News filed a memorandum on August 5 stating the reasoning for the exclusion of all photographic and electronic media is unfounded.

“The defendant fails to satisfy the stringent legal standards for the exclusion of cameras from judicial proceedings,” wrote Deanna Shullman, an attorney representing the Daily News. Attorney Steve Carta will be representing the News-Press and Waterman Broadcasting, who filed their motion on Tuesday at the 20th Judicial Court.

Shullman further stated in the memorandum that neither the United States Supreme Court nor the Florida Supreme Court has found the presence of cameras in a courtroom to constitute in itself a denial of due process.

Also, according to the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration cameras - still and video cameras - are allowed in the courtroom. Their use, however, is subject to the judge’s discretion for three reasons:

One, if the judge is able to control the conduct of the proceedings before the court; two, ensure decorum and prevent distractions and three, ensure the fair administration of justice in the pending cause.

This could mean that the judge would rule all media would need to use a pool camera – where competing news agencies work as a team, using one camera person to share images -- that way there are not multiple cameras from various news agencies in the courtroom.

“The rule does not allow for blanket denial of camera access,” Shullman wrote.

Crain’s attorney’s position, despite the ruling that the juvenile will be tried as an adult on two counts of manslaughter, is that Crain is a 14-year-old boy with a delicate disposition.

“Alex is an immature, emotionally fragile, 14 year old boy, who has now been incarcerated for a period of time. The effects of a camera in the courtroom on Alex are not entirely known at this point,” wrote Brian Bieber, one of Crain’s attorneys. “But this Court should not take the chance that Alex’s ability to rationally consult with his lawyer will (or even could) be jeopardized, even if the chance is slight.”

“Alex has not been in a public environment for over 4 months and the effect of being in a courtroom, with all eyes on him is overwhelming enough, especially when we consider his age,” Bieber added.

In the memorandum Shullman argued that Crain’s age is not reason enough for exclusion.

“The defendant has offered no evidence, expert or otherwise, that (Crain) intends to testify much less that his competence to do so would be jeopardized by the presence of still or electronic media,” Shullman wrote.

Also, since Crain is being tried as an adult, the rules applying to the privacy of a minor do not apply, Shullman wrote.

Crain, whose bond was set at $1 million, is facing a maximum 30-year sentence on each of the two counts of first-degree felony manslaughter of his parents, Thomas and Kelly Crain.

He has been in custody since his arrest on December 9, 2010.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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