Judge in Jesse Matthew’s Fairfax Case Denies Request for Cameras in Courtroom

A Fairfax County judge has denied a request to allow cameras inside the courtroom during Jesse Matthew's upcoming trial in a case dating back to September 2005.

Matthew is also charged in Albemarle County with the abduction of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham. Graham had disappeared after going out for a night with friends in September; her remains were found a month later following an extensive search.

In the 2005 Fairfax case, Matthew is charged with three felonies, including attempted capital murder. He has pleaded not guilty, and will be tried in that attack before proceedings resume in Charlottesville in the Hannah Graham case.

Because Graham's case has attracted significant media attention, a coalition of media organizations had asked to place a still camera and a video camera in the courtroom for the Fairfax trial and pretrial hearings.

Both prosecutors and the defense opposed the request for cameras. Prosecutor Ray Morrogh urged the denial, saying the victim is "really, really vehemently opposed to cameras in the courtroom."

"It's going to be a tremendous burden on this victim if there are cameras in the courtroom," he said.

Public defender Dawn Butorac said cameras would interfere with Matthew's right to a fair trial by inhibiting witnesses or possibly tainting their testimony. Concerns were also raised about whether televising the Fairfax County trial could impact jury selection in other jurisdictions, like Albemarle County, which will handle the Graham case.

"It's clear it would affect jurors ability to be impartial there," Butorac said.

Laurin Mills, the attorney for the media, told the judge at the outset that he was sensitive to victim's concerns and expected the camera, if it were permitted at trial, to be turned off during her testimony.

Mills reminded the judge he has ultimate discretion to order the cameras be turned off for any witnesses who have concerns. She also disputed the suggestion that cameras could taint witness testimony, pointing out in the 30-year history of permitting cameras in court, there is no evidence of that.

In his decision, Judge David Schell cited Virginia law that he believes prohibits cameras in cases involving sex assaults.

Matthew's trial begins March 9. He was in court Thursday alongside his defense counsel, amid a heavy security presence. Seven deputies were posted in the small courtroom.

In the Fairfax case, the victim, then 26, was walking home from a grocery store when she was grabbed and dragged into a wooded area, where she was sexually assaulted. The assailant left her after being startled by a passerby.

Authorities have said DNA evidence links Matthew to that case, as well as the disappearance and death of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington in 2009.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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