Media to challenge judge's sealing of Charleston church murder case

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 14, 2015 1:30 PM

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - The South Carolina Press Association is challenging a judge's order sealing court documents concerning Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old man charged with murdering nine worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston last month, the group said.

Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association, said legal motions were being filed on Tuesday and a hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

"The public has a need and a right to know about this case and the judge's order is overly broad," he said.

Roof is expected to attend the hearing, a court official said.

Ninth Circuit Court Judge J.C. Nicholson issued a gag order on Friday covering "all potential trial participants" as well as the ban on the release of documents in the case, including 911 police dispatch calls, coroner's reports and statements of witnesses in the case, according to court records.

Nicholson, in an order dated July 10, said he was issuing the ban on statements and release of documents in the case "due to substantial pre-trial publicity" that could jeopardize Roof's right to a fair trial.

    "There are other ways to protect a fair trial. If anybody doesn't know about this trial they've been living under a rock," Rogers said.

    "It's not just the court officers, which would be normal, but he's talking about law enforcement and anyone potentially involved in the trial from making any statements about the case."

The South Carolina Press Association is an advocate for open government that represents 109 newspaper members. Other media also are party to the intervention, including the Associated Press and local television stations.   

(Editing by David Adams and Andrew Hay)