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SALT LAKE CITY — A judge ruled Wednesday that future court hearings for a 17-year-old baby sitter charged in the death of an infant girl will be public.
The teen's attorney had sought to close from the public all proceedings for his client, who is accused of tossing 5-month-old Adalyn Monson in the air repeatedly before she stopped breathing in West Valley City in May.
Defense attorney David Johnson argued unsuccessfully Wednesday that lawyers will discuss his mental health issues and will review protected records such as psychological evaluations and child welfare reports. If reporters are present, it could limit what he may want to say when arguing the teen's defense and pointing out mitigating factors, he said.
Johnson backed away Tuesday from an earlier motion he filed to close all hearings and instead asked the judge to consider them one at a time.
“I think that would alleviate a lot of concerns I have," Johnson said. His client, who did not attend the Tuesday hearing, faces a single count of child abuse homicide, a first-degree felony, in 3rd District Juvenile Court. The Deseret News has chosen not to name him at this time.
David Reymann, an attorney for the Deseret News, KSL and the Society of Professional Journalists, filed a motion to intervene and argued for the hearings to remain open. According to Utah law, Reymann said, hearings must be open to the public unless a judge determines that specific and serious harm would occur if the information was made public.
The law also does not bar the public from any and all discussions of mental health in the courtroom, he argued. Mental health comes up in most juvenile proceedings, Reymann said after the hearing, and can only be grounds to close a hearing in specific, unusual circumstances.
"If the Legislature had wanted to create a blanket exception for mental health discussion, they wouldn't have mandated these types of hearings be open," he said.
Judge Julie Lund said she has concerns about open hearings potentially having a "chilling effect" on discussions about privileged records. But she will consider future requests from Johnson and could potentially close portions of hearings, she said, instead of barring the public and news media altogether.
Lund denied the previous motion from the boy's attorney that would block reporters from the courtroom.
A different juvenile judge issued a similar order in Farmington last month, where defense lawyers for a teenager charged with choking an organist in a church sought to keep those hearings secret. The Deseret News had fought closure in that case as well.
On May 10, Adalyn was taken off of life support after she was critically injured three days earlier. When her parents picked her up from the sitter's West Valley house on May 7, the teen, a distant family member, was holding the unresponsive child, according to charging documents. An autopsy revealed the baby died of severe brain trauma and had a bruise on her head.
The teen told officers he had tossed the girl into the air — something he did "all the time over and over again" — before she lost consciousness in part because she was crying and would not take a bottle, prosecutors allege. He watched the child as community service, he told police, part of his sentence in a prior drug possession case.