Johnson City Press Friday, August 29, 2014
Opinion

Newspaper coverage doesn’t make jury seating impossible

August 1st, 2011 8:50 am by Staff Report

Serving as a juror is a vital civic responsibility essential for maintaining our system of justice. It is a duty that must never be taken for granted.
We were reminded of this fact last week when Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp criticized this paper in court for our pre-trial coverage of a couple accused in their daughter’s death. The defense filed a motion to delay the case because of similarities to the Casey Anthony case in Florida.
In that motion, Public Defender Jeff Kelly noted both cases involved the death of a young child, both children have the same name — although spelled differently — and that the public outcry at Anthony’s acquittal could cause jurors here to be swayed in deciding a verdict for Russell Long and Jessica Adkins.
Cupp also lamented pre-trial coverage would make it difficult to sit an impartial jury in the Washington County case.
But as Press staff writer Becky Campbell reported last week, attorneys in the case had qualified 10 people Monday on two issues — pre-trial publicity or their knowledge of the case, and if they could put aside any knowledge of the Anthony trial and verdict.
Only one person was released because he said he had read about the case and formed an opinion he could not change.
We understand the judge is concerned with seating an impartial jury, as well he should be.
Even so, we would also hope the judge appreciates the responsibility this newspaper has in reporting on every aspect of this case. Our job is not to pronounce the guilt or innocence of defendants.
Readers of this newspaper look to us to tell them what’s going on — good or bad — in their community.
That means we have a special responsibility to inform the public when people are to stand trial.
We not only have a right to do so under the First Amendment, but we have an ethical responsibility to do so. By giving the reader as much information as possible about the case, we help ensure the accused is tried fairly in an open court.
This practice also allows readers to judge for themselves if all defendants are being treated equally under the law.
Despite all the concerns about sitting a jury, it was a completely different problem that derailed Long and Adkins’ first-degree murder trial in Washington County Criminal Court last week.
The case was postponed until September after Kelly told Cupp one of his witnesses is unavailable because of an illness in the family.
The Sixth Amendment calls for a speedy trial by an impartial jury. Seating the latter is rarely a problem in the 1st Judicial District. It’s accomplishing the former, however, that continues to vex the system.

comments powered by Disqus