Cameras abound at murder trial
June 5, 2013
The district judge who presides over Kirk Levin's murder trial this week denied a request on Tuesday from the man's attorney to limit the number of reporter cameras and camcorders used in the courtroom.
"They're not onerous. They're not omnipresent," judge Timothy Finn said between witness testimony when jurors were not present in a Webster County courtroom. "I don't think they're affecting the outcome of the case. I don't think they're having any effect on the jury."
At least seven reporters and photographers are covering the trial with a total of six laptops, three camcorders and up to three cameras at any given time. Reporters filed a so-called expanded media request in January to use the devices, which was approved by a magistrate that oversaw some of Levin's initial court hearings after his arrest on Jan. 3 for allegedly stabbing and strangling to death his mother and kidnapping another woman.
Jury selection started Monday, and the trial on Tuesday.
The camcorders sit on tripods adjacent to the jury box. The cameras and laptops are in various areas of the gallery but are not often in direct view of jurors.
Levin's attorney, Charles Kenville, of Fort Dodge, has asked judge Finn twice to limit the cameras and camcorders to two apiece.
"It falls within the discretion of the court, and I'm going to overrule the request," Finn said Tuesday.
Finn's liberal camera rule comes on the heels of a much more restrictive policy of another district judge, James Richardson, who barred Daily Times Herald reporters from taking notes with paper and pen last month at a vehicular homicide trial in Audubon.
Richardson relaxed the rule after the Times Herald threatened to file a lawsuit, and he put seats for reporters in an area of the courtroom that jurors could not easily see.
The Times Herald had not filed an expanded media request for that trial, but none is usually needed for jotting notes. Richardson feared that a reporter's writing would sway jurors - that they would place greater importance on what was being said at the time.
Judges have wide discretion over the rules of their courtrooms, but some said Richardson's rule infringed on long-standing rights of the press to report on criminal trials.
"It would be impossible for a journalist to accurately report on a trial without being able to take notes," Kathleen Richardson, of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said of the rule.
The Iowa Supreme Court appointed a committee late last year to make recommendations about what electronic devices should be permitted in Iowa courtrooms and the process for getting approval to use them in each criminal or civil case. The statewide court rules that govern media access have not been updated for decades.
Now, reporters send out live updates from courtrooms via the Internet. They have used Twitter to do that at Levin's trial this week.
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