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Karen Scullin ReportingA judge delayed her decision today on whether to allow the public to the competency hearings for Elizabeth Smart's alleged kidnappers. Several media groups filed notice, objecting to a defense request to close the hearings altogether.
In a public courthouse proceedings are for the most part public. Anyone can go in who wants to. But in the cases of Wanda Barzee and Brian Mitchell, the judge first granted the motion by the defense to close a competency hearing, but the media objected.
Today the judge heard from the attorneys representing the media and the defense. First the defense argued that paperwork procedures weren't followed by the media attorneys. The judge disagreed.
Then a second argument was brought up that the defendants’ right to a fair trial would be in jeopardy. They said crucial evidence needed to be revealed that it would almost be a "mini-trial”, and if released publicly could in the long run taint a jury pool.
Jeff Hunt, Media Attorney: “The enormous public interest in this case and the availability of the court to question potential jurors, root out those that have been exposed to media reports, will protect the sixth amendment right of these defendants to have a fair trial."
Scott Williams, Wanda Barzee’s Attorney: “All of what was going to happen in a closed hearing is now going to happen in a closed hearing. The only difference is there will be lawyers for the media in that hearing who have been ordered by the judge not to release to the media what happens in it."
But Hunt disagrees and believes most of the hearing will actually be held in an open courtroom. So basically the hearing on Friday could end up with the judge ordering a portion or portions of it closed. We'll just have to wait and see.