Judge rejects juror anonymity in federal cyberstalking trial

AP News
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Posted: Jun 09, 2015 4:50 PM
Judge rejects juror anonymity in federal cyberstalking trial

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday rejected a prosecution request to keep the names of jurors secret in the cyberstalking trial of the widow and children of a man who killed his former daughter-in-law at a Delaware courthouse.

The ruling by Judge Gerald McHugh Jr. came after an attorney representing The Associated Press and The News Journal of Wilmington objected to the prosecution's request, which also was opposed by attorneys representing David Matusiewicz; his mother, Lenore; and his sister, Amy Gonzalez.

The defendants, who could face life in prison if convicted, are charged with conspiracy and stalking of David's ex-wife, Christine Belford. Belford was fatally shot in 2013 by David's father, Thomas Matusiewicz, who also killed a friend of Belford and exchanged gunfire with police before killing himself.

Because the prosecution's request for an anonymous jury was done orally, it was unclear what justification the government offered to keep juror names secret.

Meanwhile, questioning of potential jurors continued behind closed doors Tuesday after McHugh refused to reconsider an order he issued Monday sealing the courtroom during questioning of individual members of the jury pool.

David Finger, an attorney representing the media organizations, argued that the while the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed the presumption of public access to the courts, the early stages of the Matusiewicz case appear to be unfolding with a presumption of privacy.

"It seems the process here is beginning with closure. ... That's putting the cart before the horse," said Finger, adding that closing the courtroom during juror questioning for logistical reasons or for the convenience of attorneys was not justified.

"The Constitution sometimes is inconvenient," he told McHugh.

The judge refused to consider his order, however, saying that with the amount of publicity the case has generated, a "full and frank" discussion with each potential juror is best done outside public view.

Prosecutors say David Matusiewicz conspired with his parents and sister over several years to torment and stalk his ex-wife with the intent to injure, harass, intimidate and kill her. They say the defendants repeatedly accused Belford in email communications and Internet postings of abusing and neglecting the three daughters she had with David Matusiewicz.

But Thomas Matusiewicz's family members have denied having any knowledge that he intended to kill Belford.

McHugh has yet to rule on the admissibility of surveillance video showing the scene in the courthouse lobby after Belford was shot, but he indicated Monday that portions of the videotape are "problematic" and could be unfairly prejudicial to the defense if jurors were allowed to see them.

McHugh, a Pennsylvania judge, was assigned to the case after all of Delaware's federal judges were recused.

Last year, prosecutors joined with defense attorneys in specifically asking that Judge Gregory Sleet of Wilmington recuse himself. According to court papers, Sleet's name was one of 16 included on what prosecutors have suggested is a "hit list" found in Thomas Matusiewicz's car.

In a case presided over by Sleet, David Matusiewicz pleaded guilty in 2009 to federal fraud and kidnapping charges after he and his mother took his daughters to Central America. Lenore Matusiewicz served more than a year in Delaware state prison for child endangerment for her role in the kidnapping. The Matusiewicz family has said they were trying to protect one of the daughters from being sexually abused by Belford, an assertion that Sleet said had not been proven.