A pretrial hearing for Adam Longoria wrapped up around 2:15 p.m. Thursday, with the courtroom remaining open to the public. Attorneys for the prosecution and defense indicated they are still trying to reach an agreement on certain issues without resorting to a closed hearing.
Longoria is charged with capital murder in the August 2010 death of 14-year-old Alicia DeBolt, although the state is not seeking the death penalty if he is convicted. The state alleges DeBolt was murdered by the defendant after he attempted to rape her.
The Great Bend Tribune and other media filed motions Thursday afternoon, asking the court not to close any portion of the hearing. The defense had asked the court to close the proceedings during the argument of matters "that have previously been ruled inadmissible, that could impair the ability of Mr. Longoria to receive a fair trial, and/or are more prejudicial than probative." That includes defendant motions to suppress certain statements and state motions to admit certain evidence, such as Longoria’s interview with Special Agent In Charge Kelly Ralston from the Great Bend office of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Barton County District Judge Hannelore Kitts asked the attorneys to continue their efforts to reach an agreement outside of the formal hearing setting, but said she hasn’t ruled out a closed hearing in the future.
"I am well within my right to close this hearing, and I am prepared to do that if they cannot reach an agreement," Kitts said. She said her decision was made partially because of her knowledge of what is on juror surveys.
Kitts noted that the state has not yet filed its response to the two defense motions for a closed hearing. She gave prosecuting attorneys until next Friday, March 9, to do so and let her know if an agreement has been reached that would preclude such a hearing.
Kitts and the attorneys dealt with several other matters Thursday before taking up the motions for closed hearings. As soon as the matter arose, members of the media asked for time to consult with their attorneys and argue for an open court.
"I assure you that I know the law," Kitts said. She noted the court has "bent over backwards" to make these proceedings open. There is even a link on the Kansas Courts website that allows Internet access to documents filed in the case, and through that link reporters were aware of the motions for closed proceedings.
Defense attorney Tim Frieden noted that on Wednesday afternoon the Tribune and others had posted to their websites stories about the motions.
"This is not a surprise to you," Kitts told the media representatives. They were given until 1 p.m. to have legal representation at the courthouse or to fax file written motions.
Shortly after 1 p.m., reporters were told the judge was reviewing the documents that had been faxed. Court reconvened at 2 p.m.
Hoisington had hand delivered and faxed a "Motion to Intervene by The Great Bend Tribune," written by Attorney Michael W. Merriam, who is the Kansas Press Association’s legal consultant. Including an attached brief, the document was 15 pages long. The other entities also entered a motion under the names of their parent companies, as a joint effort.
The Tribune’s brief stated that the defense motion to close the courtroom during some pretrial motions "should be denied because there has been neither a showing of the substantial probability that defendant’s or anyone else’s right to fair trial would be prejudiced by media coverage, nor a clear and present danger to the fairness of the trial or that any possible prejudicial effect of the release of the information to the media could not be avoided by any other reasonable alternative means. ... It is the function and indeed the duty, of the court to balance the rights of the defendant against the rights of all other persons concerned in a fair trial/free press analysis."Tribune Publisher Mary Hoisington and Managing Editor Dale Hogg asked that the proceedings remain open to the public. There were also requests from reporters from the Wichita Eagle, the Hutchinson News, and television stations KSN, KAKE and KWCH. "Our attorney is not available at this point in time," Hoisington said. She asked the court to consider the fair coverage the media have provided to date, adding it has been factual and not sensational. Other reporters also said they were attempting to contact legal council, since the issue of a closed hearing had only arisen in the past 24 hours. Meanwhile, they asked the judge to consider the First Amendment right to freedom of the press, while acknowledging it must be weighed against Mr. Longoria’s right to receive a fair trial.