Should the trial of Aurora theater shooting gunman James Holmes be televised?
Television station KUSA has asked the judge's permission to set up a single video camera in the courtroom during Holmes's trial, which is scheduled to begin December 8. KUSA would share the footage with six other television stations and one radio station. Holmes's attorneys object to the request, arguing that broadcasting the proceedings could intimidate witnesses, unduly influence jurors and mislead viewers.
In KUSA's request (on view below), attorneys for the station argue that the presence of a TV camera wouldn't disrupt the proceedings. "It is the petitioner's experience that a television camera which allows a live feed to be sent outside the courtroom actually reduces the number of media representatives in the courtroom," they wrote.
They also argue that the Colorado Supreme Court "has made it clear that it encourages expanded media coverage because of the importance of open courts and the educational benefits of allowing the public to see judicial proceedings." They note that TV stations have had "a long and successful experience" televising court proceedings in Colorado, including the trial of Abby Toll, who was convicted in 2010 of taping a dog to a refrigerator; the 2010 sentencing of Willie Clark, who was convicted of murdering Denver Bronco Darrent Williams; and the cases against Richard and Mayumi Heene, the parents of "Balloon Boy."
The camera would be silent and stationary, and it would not emit any visible light, KUSA's attorneys wrote. If microphones were needed, they would be unobtrusive, the attorneys added, and the camera operator would "conduct himself or herself in a manner consistent with the dignity and decorum of the courtroom."
But Holmes's attorneys are worried that televising the proceedings would interfere with Holmes's right to a fair trial. The media, they wrote in a motion also on view below, does not have a First Amendment right to broadcast a trial.
A still from James Holmes's first court appearance in 2012, which was televised.
Holmes's attorneys list several specific concerns, including the chilling effect that a camera could have on witnesses. "If the Court chooses to televise the trial, it runs the risk of victims and witnesses withdrawing their cooperation in this case," they wrote.
They're especially concerned about so-called mitigation witnesses who would testify on Holmes's behalf at any sentencing hearing: "The defense has had numerous conversations with potential mitigation witnesses who have expressed a desire to support Mr. Holmes, but who have simultaneously articulated serious reservations about testifying because of concerns over their privacy and the high-profile nature of the case."
Holmes's attorneys also believe TV coverage could influence the jurors. "If the trial is televised -- particularly if 'gavel-to-gavel' coverage is broadcast -- jurors will be far more likely to inadvertently expose themselves to coverage of the trial," they wrote. "It is also more likely that friends and family members of jurors will view portions of the trial and may be unable to resist the temptation of discussing the case with jurors despite the Court's instructions to the contrary."
And television coverage of high-profile cases such as this one doesn't accurately represent what actually happens in the courtroom, Holmes's attorneys say. Media executives' "primary goal is to attract viewers and make money, not necessarily to educate and enlighten the public on the functioning of the criminal justice system," they wrote.
"Clips of the footage gained from filming the trial that are shown on the evening news are not only likely to be short and incomplete, but selected for their ability to enhance or arouse the emotional experience of the viewers watching the story."
Furthermore, Holmes's attorneys argue, "allowing the media to broadcast this high-profile trial will irreparably taint the jury pool if it is ever re-tried as a result of a mistrial, hung jury, or reversal."
Judge Carlos Samour has scheduled a hearing to debate KUSA's request on September 22 at 9 a.m. In the meantime, read the full request and Holmes's objection below.
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