Prosecutors file for wide-reaching gag order on McCraney case

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Coley McCraney enters Dale Co. Courthouse

(File Photo)

OZARK, Ala. (WDHN) — Prosecutors in the 1999 murder case of two Dothan teenagers have motioned for a wide-reaching gag order to control pretrial publicity.

According to the prosecution, the “inordinate amount” of media coverage related to the Coley McCraney case prompted them to move for action to ” control pretrial publicity in this case with the aim of preserving a neutral jury pool in Dale County, Alabama.”

The prosecution says that without intervention, the jury pool will be tainted by opinions of the case before the trial even begins. As such, they are asking a wide-reaching gag order to control pretrial publicity.

Under this motion, all forms of media (prints, broadcast and digital) would be banned from all pretrial hearings, and court records would be sealed until a jury is selected.

The motion also asks that attorneys, witnesses, law enforcement, and court personnel be forbidden “from extra-judicially releasing information in any form to any agent or employee of any news media concerning any aspect of this proceeding.”

In addition to these restrictions, recording the court proceedings with a camera or cellphone would now be prohibited.

In response, the defense filed a countermotion saying the prosecution is responsible for any potential saturation of opinion in the jury pool.

“On or about March 17, 2019, the Dale County District Attorney, the chief of the Ozark Police Department, along with other local and state law enforcement officials held a nationally televised press conference during which the prosecution and its agents told the world that the case was solved, DNA doesn’t lie, and they have finally brought closure to the victim’s families,” the countermotion states.

The countermotion then goes on to mention the release of the forensic report describing the DNA found on J.B. Beasley later on by the state, before the defendant was presented with the evidence.

The defense’s motion also states that all the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing was released by the prosecution. The defense said some of the evidence would later be inadmissible in court.

“Now that the prosecution has been able to make contaminating statements regarding this case and the Defendant’s guilt, as well as release to the public much of the evidence in this case, the prosecution is requesting this Court to control the pretrial publicity,” the countermotion states.

The defense also said that by excluding the media, the prosecution also suggests excluding the public from the pretrial hearings.

“This assertion is contradictory to the Due Process afforded all criminal defendants within our judicial system,” the defense said. “The United States Constitution as well as the Constitution of the State of Alabama contemplate public trials as one of the safeguards to the Due Process guaranteed to every citizen. The conduct of the prosecution, thus far in this case, is prima facie evidence that the concerns proffered in its motion to control pretrial publicity are in reality of little concern to the prosecution and its motion was simply filed as a hindrance to the defense and to the defense’s ability to impanel an impartial jury.”

As of right now, the two sides will discuss the control measure at a pretrial hearing scheduled for June 27.

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