SPOKANE, Wash. — KREM 2 News and 21 other news outlets have formed a coalition to ask a Latah County judge to narrow the scope of a gag order in the University of Idaho student murders case.
The coalition, which includes The Associated Press, states that access to law enforcement officers, attorneys and other officials involved in this case will "ensure the public is accurately informed about the criminal justice process."
“This order is unnecessarily sweeping and broad and severely impedes the public’s understanding of a significant criminal investigation that profoundly impacted the community,” said Josh Hoffner, national news director for The Associated Press.
28-year-old Bryan Kohberger is currently in the Latah County Jail awaiting trial for his alleged role in the murders of four University of Idaho students: Ethan Chapin, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Madison Mogen.
Ahead of the suspect's first court appearance in Idaho on Jan. 5, Latah County Judge Megan Marshall issued an order that prohibits investigators, law enforcement, attorneys and agents of the prosecuting attorney or defense attorney from speaking to the media or public about the Moscow murders.
On Thursday, Marshall extended that order to include attorneys representing the victims' families from discussing the case publicly.
“There is a balance between protecting the right to a fair trial for all parties involved and the right to free expression as afforded under both the United States and Idaho Constitution,” Marshall wrote in the amended order. “To preserve the right to a fair trial some curtailment of the dissemination of information in this case is necessary and authorized under the law.”
Gag orders can infringe on the First Amendment rights of the public and of the people involved in the case. News organizations that cover the courts serve a watchdog role, keeping the public informed about how the judicial branch operates.
The U.S. Supreme Court has found that gag orders do infringe on the public's right to know what is going on in the nation's courtrooms, but the high court has also said that some gag orders are permissible, as long as they are the least restrictive way to ensure a fair trial and are narrowly tailored to achieve their aim.
The first gag order issued by Marshall on Jan. 3 did not include any stated reason for why she felt the gag order was needed. It prohibited the parties in the criminal case, “including investigators, law enforcement personnel, attorneys, and agents of the prosecuting attorney or defense attorney,” from making any statements outside of court other than directly quoting actual court records filed in the case.
Notably, both the prosecution and defense attorneys had filed a document roughly two hours earlier saying they agreed to the creation of a gag order and wanted it to include investigators and law enforcement.
“This Court has both a constitutional duty and the inherent authority to ‘minimize the effects of prejudicial pretrial publicity’ and ‘to ensure the efficacious administration of justice,’” Kohberger's defense attorney Anne Taylor and Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson wrote.
Kohberger is scheduled for a five-day preliminary hearing starting June 26.
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