Hook editor subpoenaed in bomb case
In the latest chapter of a case that's put four local teenage boys behind bars after they were convicted of conspiracy for allegedly plotting to blow up two high schools, the Albemarle commonwealth's attorney office has subpoenaed Hook editor Hawes Spencer to be a witness for the prosecution, and assistant commonwealth's attorney Darby Lowe also demanded copies of all articles about the case the free weekly newspaper has written.
Spencer, who interviewed a 13-year-old and his parents, detailed in a July 20 article how the family felt duped by police and intimidated by the process. The boy was arrested at Jack Jouett Middle School two weeks after police interrogated him alone February 1 and repeatedly assured him he was not in trouble.
The boy was incarcerated for two months and convicted in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court March 28. At least three juveniles are appealing the convictions, and at least three are now out of detention.
After the March 28 closed trial, Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos told gathered reporters a "court order" kept him from revealing the verdict– and that his office would pursue anyone who leaked information about the case. No written court order has yet been shown to prohibit discussion of the juvenile case.
On June 27 Spencer appeared before Judge Paul Peatross requesting that the veil of secrecy surrounding the case, which first came to light in a February 3 police press conference, be lifted. In court, Spencer wondered if the commonwealth's attorney's office, in its zealous pursuit of secrecy, had something to hide. Peatross denied the Hook's request to open the records.
The Daily Progress, using a real lawyer, made the same request to Peatross August 1. On August 8, the judge ordered another hearing in the case of a 16-year-old former Albemarle High student, whose lawyer, David Bruns, requested the Circuit Court proceedings be closed.
Rutherford Institute head John Whitehead sees the subpoenaing of reporters as "a lack of respect of the press across the board."
"It is obviously very intimidating to subpoena a citizen," says Whitehead. "Anytime you're called into court by the prosecution, it's intimidating." Whitehead also wonders what Spencer can add to the case. "If it's for the purpose of justice, that's fine. But are they serving justice to have Hawes sit around court for two days?"
Whitehead has appeared on radio talk shows about the alleged bomb plot, and says he discovered from listener call-ins, "The community is quite critical of this case" as far as how the prosecution and police have handled it. "They're certainly not laying it to rest with this kind of stuff."
One source indicates that prosecutors may be seeking a change of venue for what Spencer now calls the "smoke bomb" case.
4:55pm update: Circuit Court Clerk Shelby Marshall won't let the Hook see the case file, claiming that it's closed until the judge declares it open. However, an informed source indicates that at least two other news orgs have been subpoened in the trial of the 13-year-old who was initially told by an Albemarle police officer: "You're not in trouble. We're kinda looking at you as maybe a witness."