Pre-trial hearings in murder case open to the public - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Pre-trial hearings in murder case open to the public

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - All pre-trial hearings in the Jeffery Denby murder case will be open to the public, according to a Louisiana State Supreme Court's ruling. Jeffery Denby is being charged with first degree murder and second degree cruelty to a juvenile in the death of 18 month old John Thomas Brewer.

In July, 2009, Beauregard Parish Judge Martha O'Neal ordered the courtroom closed and the record sealed for any and all pretrial motions in the case of Jeffery Denby; and she issued a gag order preventing any of those involved from talking about the case. It was after both defense attorneys and prosecutors filed a joint motion asking for a closed hearing that Judge O'Neal decided to close the courtroom and seal the record in the case.  In written reasons for her ruling the judge says she wants to protect Denby's right to a fair trial and to be able to seat a jury without a possible change of venue and related expenses.

KPLC-TV and the American Press challenged the judge's decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal. In August 2009, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Judge O'Neal to keep the courtroom closed to the public. Thursday, that order was reversed by the Louisiana State Supreme Court. It ordered the district court to open the courtroom to the public for all pre-trial proceedings and any unsealed pre-trail documents. 

"The people have a right to know what's going on in the courtroom and I've always taken the position on behalf of the media that you restore confidence in the courts when the people can see what's going on. And it's a balancing test but the courts have consistently said that the media's got a right to an open courtroom, that the media's a representative of the people. Not everybody can go in the courtroom so that's why they read the newspaper and watch television," said KPLC-TV attorney Jim Doyle.

The media's challenge on the imposed gag order on all parties in the case was not reversed. The Jeffery Denby's pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Monday, May 17th.

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