Gag Order in BYU Rape Case Might Be Unnecessary

Gag Order in BYU Rape Case Might Be Unnecessary

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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- A gag order that prevents prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Brigham Young University rape case from discussing the matter with the media may be unnecessary, said a communications law professor.

"The whole idea of the judicial process is that it's not just a private proceeding between the victim and the defendant," said Brigham Young instructor Ed Carter.

Carter was speaking out on Fourth District Judge Samuel McVey's Jan. 28 order that gags the prosecution and attorneys for two of the four former BYU football players accused of rape.

Rhome Zabriskie, who represents co-defendant Ibrahim Rashada, and Greg Skordas, representing Karland Bennett, were included in the gag order.

Rashada, Bennett, B.J. Mathis and William Turner Jr. are charged with aggravated sexual assault for allegedly raping a 17-year-old Salt Lake County girl in Provo last August, when the four were BYU freshmen preparing to start fall practice. BYU has suspended all four from school for one year.

McVey based his ruling on fears that confidential information leaked to the press, and comments made by several defense attorneys, could prevent the defendants or the alleged victim from getting a fair trial.

But Carter said gag orders are ineffective, citing the high profile Kobe Bryant and Michael Jackson cases in which sensitive information has been leaked to the press despite sweeping gag orders.

When judges have attempted to place restraints on the media, the U.S. Supreme Court has asked lower court judges to pursue other alternatives, Carter said.

But those alternatives -- such as delaying the trial, changing the venue or sequestering the jury -- would not reduce media attention and would be too expensive, said Utah County Deputy Attorney Donna Kelly.

Gag orders are "by far the easiest and least restrictive means that this court can use to insure that all parties receive a fair trial," Kelly added.

Carter believes prosecutors may be overestimating the power of the press and its impact on potential jurors.

"Of the 400,000 people in Utah County, I think you'll be able to come up with 12 people who will be able to sit as a fair and impartial jury," he said.

Zabriskie and Jere Reneer, who represents Mathis but was not included in the gag order, argued against the motion. Both said that they had spoken candidly to the press about the case to counterbalance statements from the prosecution and police that implied their clients were guilty.

Skordas said he didn't object to the gag order and agreed that it may have been necessary.

Bennett, Rashada and Mathis are scheduled for a seven-day jury trial beginning June 27. Turner, who was 17 at the time of the incident, is being tried as a juvenile.

Prosecutors contend that in August, the men gave vodka to a 17-year-old girl at an off-campus Provo apartment. They allegedly showed the girl a pornographic movie, then raped her after she passed out.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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