OZARK, Ala. (WSFA) - WSFA 12 News is joining a number of other media organizations in filing a motion that objects to attempts to limit the public’s access, and thus media access, to a south Alabama double-murder suspect’s pretrial proceedings.
The motion, filed in the Circuit Court of Dale County, involves the case of Coley Lewis McCraney, arrested and charged with the 1999 murders of Wiregrass teens Tracie Hawlett and JB Beasley. McCraney was named as a suspect 20 years after the homicides following a geological search of DNA taken from the crime scene.
WSFA 12 News, Dothan sister station WTVY-TV, and parent company Gray Media Group have joined the Alabama Broadcasters Association, the Alabama Press Association, and the Dothan Eagle in opposing an attempt by the Dale County district attorney’s office to block public and media access.
The motion is filed on grounds that coverage of such proceedings is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“The prosecution seeks to control pretrial publicity by, among other things: (1) Excluding the public, print, and electronic media from all pretrial proceedings, and (2) Directing that all records and transcripts of this case be sealed until the jury is impaneled,” the filing states.
The Dale County district attorney’s office contends media coverage would lead to pretrial publicity that could taint a potential jury pool. In a one-page filing, it wrote “it appears that the prospective jury pool will be saturated with thoughts and opinions regarding the facts and nature of this case before a trial begins.”
The joint-media filing contends that “such an assertion falls far short of meeting the extremely high burden which must be established before an American criminal courtroom proceeding involving an adult charged with murder can be held behind closed doors.”
McCraney’s attorneys are also opposing the prosecution’s attempts to close the proceedings and, as noted in the joint-media filing, that “is a strong indication there is no substantial likelihood of prejudice in this case relating to pretrial publicity that could not be addressed... during jury selection."
Each media outlet involved in the filing has requested to be heard on the motion to control pretrial publicity at a hearing already set for July 12 at 9 a.m. in Ozark.