Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Judge Restricts Free Speech of Victim's Family

The trial of Lemaricus Davidson, for the kidnapping, rape and murder of Chris Newsom and Channon Christian is underway in Tennessee. On Monday, the defense attorneys for Davidson strayed from strategies used during the previous related trials and tried to paint Mr. Newsom and Ms. Christian as drug users who were killed in a drug deal gone wrong. Witnesses testified that Chris Newsom had smoked pot, and toxicology reports showed marijuana and amphetamines in his system. Defense attorneys sought testimony from several witnesses and tried to get them to say or imply that both Mr. Newsom and Ms. Christian were drug users. Needless to say the family and friends of Mr. Newsom and Ms. Christian (who were both carjacked, kidnapped, raped repeatedly, tortured, and murdered - Chris was shot and set on fire and Channon was suffocated after being stuffed into a garbage can) were very unhappy with the defense's strategy and their attempt to tarnish the reputation of their loved ones.

During a lunch break, a Newsom relative made a comment as Trant walked by that he later reported to Judge Richard Baumgartner as “derogatory.” The judge was livid.
“I will not tolerate that,” he told the families from the bench. “They are officers of the court. They have been appointed by this court to represent Mr. Davidson. They are doing this job at the direction of the court. This is their obligation. They do this at great sacrifice to themselves and their families.”
The judge ordered the families not to make “public” statements to or about the attorneys in court or out, though it’s not clear how he could legally bar them exercising their free speech rights outside the courtroom.
“You are not in any way to impugn them,” he said. “If you want to go home and talk about them in your living room, have at it. But you are not to do that in this court or on the airwaves.”

How can a judge order a family to not make "public" statements about the attorney representing the man accused of murdering their children? These families are not disclosing private details of the trial, they are not leaking evidence - but they are now barred from stating their opinion of facts which are public knowledge, with the added threat that they will not be allowed in court if they do.

This case is a lightning rod. The defense attorneys have been receiving death threats and that is also unacceptable. These men are court appointed attorneys who are doing their jobs to the best of their ability - if they are not seen to be doing their best and Davidson is convicted he could easily win an appeal on the grounds that he did not receive a proper defense. Just as anyone should have the right to criticize their tactics (although apparently that right can be taken away at the judge's whim), these men ought to be left alone to do their court appointed jobs without having to worry about the health and safety of themselves or their families.

The trial is demonstrating yet again that in the justice system alleged criminals have more rights than the victim and their family. Several pieces of evidence have not been shown (including certain photographs of the victims body) because the judge ruled it would be too horrific and might prejudice the jury (this was in the related trial of Letalvis Cobbins). In the Davidson trial, the judge would not allow testimony from a witness that Davidson had pulled a gun on someone a few days prior to the murders of Christian and Newsom, again saying it might prejudice the jury. The court goes to great length ensuring the accused's "rights" are protected, yet the family members of the victims have their right to publicly state their opinion taken away. Shame.