Judge lifts some media restrictions in campsite deaths case

AP News
|
Posted: Dec 02, 2015 4:26 PM

DALLAS (AP) — A Texas judge has backtracked on an order that placed extraordinary restrictions on media coverage of a man charged with killing a family of six at an East Texas campsite.

District Judge Deborah Oakes Evans had approved on Nov. 20 a motion by the attorney for William Hudson that forbid reporting on the evidence compiled against him and any photographs of him. The motion also required that all pretrial hearings be held in her chambers and not in open court.

But Evans issued a revised order Tuesday removing those restrictions following complaints by media companies, including the Palestine Herald-Press and WFAA-TV in Dallas. Evans was not available Wednesday for comment.

"The fact that there has been publicity about a case, including even pervasive publicity, is not in itself justification to restrain the news media from reporting the developments in a criminal case," attorney Paul Watler, who represents WFAA, told The Associated Press.

Prosecutors, law enforcement officials and others still are forbidden from speaking about the case against Hudson, who's charged with six counts of capital murder in the Nov. 14 killing on rural land adjacent to his, about 100 miles southeast of Dallas.

Authorities have identified the dead as Carl Johnson, 76; Hannah Johnson, 40; Kade Johnson, 6; Thomas Kamp, 46; Nathan Kamp, 23; and Austin Kamp, 21.

According to a previous warrant, the 33-year-old suspect was drinking with the group when he accompanied four of them into surrounding woods. The warrant says the lone survivor, Cynthia Johnson, heard gunshots before Hudson returned alone to the campsite, chased her husband and daughter into a travel camper and shot them.

No motive has been released by authorities.

Hudson's attorney, Stephen Evans, did not return a call for comment Wednesday but previously told The Dallas Morning News that he filed his motion in an effort to ensure a fair trial for his client.

"We believe that the facts in the case should be appropriately tried in the courtroom, and not outside of it," said Evans, who's not related to the judge.

Watler said it was the first time he's heard of a judge issuing such a broad decree in his 30 years of arguing First Amendment cases in Texas.

Jim McCown, an attorney for the Herald-Press, said the initial motion appeared to have been granted without a public hearing or opportunity to contest it.

"For something of this magnitude I would have expected more transparency with the community about it," McCown said.

Tuesday's order was actually the third issued by Evans in the matter. One filed Nov. 24 appeared to lift the restrictions, but did not indicate that it replaced the judge's initial gag order. Tuesday's order made clear that it "supersedes any previous order."