YOUNGSTOWN — Attorney for aggravated murder defendant Robert L. Moore recently asked Judge Maureen Sweeney of the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to exclude reporters from certain hearings in the Moore case.
Moore is charged with the 2009 disappearance and presumed death of Glenna J. White, a 16-year-old girl from Smith Township.
Alliance attorney Jeffrey Haupt filed a motion last Tuesday to “exclude the media from the courtroom at all preliminary hearings where evidence may be (mentioned) or arguments made about it by (the lawyers)”.
The filing says the request is being made because Haupt will attempt to suppress “certain evidence that may or may not be admitted during the trial.”
Sweeney denied the motion.
The filing is extraordinary in that such a request is rare and almost never successful, said a Cleveland First Amendment attorney.
Attorney David Marburger, who has advised The Vindicator, Tribune Chronicle and other newspapers over the years, said denying such requests “would be the norm” among judges in the United States.
“Motions like this have rarely been successful since 1986,” Marburger said of the year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “certain types of preliminary hearings are presumptively open to the press.”
“The normal decision on motions like this is that we do not close hearings to the press because there are other ways to protect the defendant’s fair trial rights than excluding the press and the public of the hearings – because these hearings are quite important.They will decide what evidence will not be admitted against the accused.
“So if you attend the trial and don’t know what happened in the pre-trial suppression hearing, then you don’t know a really important – and perhaps outcome-defining – part of the story. case, he said.
Often, a defendant will ask that evidence gathered by police be suppressed for constitutionality reasons, Marburger noted.
For example, an accused may request that a confession be stripped from evidence on the grounds that the suspect was not sufficiently informed of his constitutional right to remain silent.
“You’re talking about the constitutional conduct of the police,” he said. “You have a (decision) by the court of the constitutionality of the police conduct. This should not be kept secret. If the court is going to suppress evidence that could determine the outcome of the trial, sometimes the case ends. They don’t have a trial. If the prosecution’s main evidence is suppressed, there is no trial.
He said a flaw in Haupt’s filing is that it wasn’t specific enough about the evidence that Haupt didn’t want the public to hear.
“It would not be enough for any court to justify barring the public, and the public and the press, from these preliminary hearings,” he said of the case.
Marburger said there may be circumstances in which certain information may be withheld from the public before trial.
“Off the top of my head, I don’t remember the situations. I’m sure sometimes these motions have been granted since 1986 in the United States, but that would be extremely rare,” he said.
Sweeney also denied other motions Haupt recently filed — one asking that Moore, 51, of Alliance — be allowed to appear at the preliminary hearings in plain clothes and without chains or handcuffs. He will be allowed to wear civilian clothes during the trial, which is scheduled for February 28.
Last week, a hearing in the case discussed motions Haupt had filed earlier, such as one asking Sweeney to suppress testimony about “other crimes, wrongs or wrongdoings” committed by Moore.
Mahoning County prosecutors opposed the motion, saying there was good reason to call evidence at the trial for Moore’s admitted murder of 22-year-old Virginia Lecorchick in 1993 at Berlin Lake.
Prosecutors argued that a jury should hear about Lecorchick’s murder because the details of that murder are “strikingly similar” to details from late June 2, 2009 and early June 3, 2009, when White disappeared.
Moore was convicted in the Stark County Court of Common Pleas of Lecorchick’s murder. Moore was sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison, according to court records.
Haupt argued that improperly admitted evidence of other crimes or wrongdoing “often results in the overturning of criminal convictions” and added that such information “would be unfairly prejudicial” to Moore.
In Haupt’s filing asking that reporters be barred from certain hearings, he also said his reason was that news coverage could “taint” the jury panel.
Haupt’s filing indicates that “although the general public may have a (rudimentary) interest in the legal proceedings, the overriding interest rests with the accused.”