MIAMI — A Miami judge said Wednesday she will review what evidence has been collected in the case of a man and woman charged with fatally beating their 10-year-old adoptive daughter and then decide whether to release it to the public.
Attorneys for Jorge and Carmen Barahona asked Judge Sarah Zabel to seal all pretrial evidence from the public, arguing the intense media coverage would prevent the Barahonas from finding an impartial jury and receiving a fair trial. Defense attorneys gave the judge a computer disc filled with national and local media coverage.
"You are in a position to recognize the breadth of the penetration of people's thoughts by the Internet and there's no stopping that," attorney Edith Georgie argued. "It will saturate. It will be front page again and again. It will be all over Facebook and Twitter."
Even readers' comments beneath the Miami Herald's online stories about the Barahona case "are sickening," Georgie said.
She implored the judge to treat this case differently than other high-publicity cases because it involves the death of a child.
The Barahonas were charged with first-degree murder and multiple child-abuse and neglect charges after their daughter Nubia's body was found partially decomposed in the back of Jorge Barahona's truck along a busy highway on Feb 14. Her twin brother, Victor, was in the front seat badly burned after having been doused with a toxic chemical. He survived and is now in foster care. Biological relatives are seeking to adopt him.
Jorge and Carmen Barahona have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Police said the Barahonas beat the children for months with a shoe, whip or broom and locked them in a bathroom for days on end with their hands and feet bound.
Prosecutors have said they intend to seek the death penalty.
The case prompted an independent review of the Florida Department of Children and Families and its private contractors. DCF has also made several changes since records showed allegations that the twins were being abused weren't adequately investigated. The agency has since hired 80 new child protective investigators to help with high caseloads.
Once state prosecutors collect evidence in a case and turn it over to the defense, it becomes public record.
Three attorneys representing a half-dozen news outlets said the defense failed to show the evidence in question is different from the evidence that state child welfare officials have already released. DCF released thousands of pages in the case.
"The defendant did not produce evidence to show (the Barahonas) would not get a fair trial if that evidence is released," said Scott Ponce, an attorney for The Miami Herald.
Judge Zabel said "there are a lot of cases the community is talking about. That doesn't necessarily mean the case should be kept sealed."
Zabel gave defense attorneys 10 day to assemble a list of what evidence has already been made public and what has not been released. Both sides will meet with the judge to discuss the list. After that, she will decide what to release.
"It may turn out to be everything... I don't' know until I see it," Zabel said.