NEWS- Denied: Clampdown on alleged bomber info continues
A motion to open up the proceedings, transcripts, and evidence in the circuit court appeal of two teens accused of plotting two blow up two Albemarle County high schools was denied June 27.
Hook editor Hawes Spencer, citing the appearance of "double secret probation," asked Albemarle Circuit Court Judge Paul Peatross to open the records in the case that began with an early February press conference by the police chief and school superintendent, but has since been shrouded in secrecy.
All four of the teens arrested– a 16-year-old Western Albemarle High student, a 15-year-old from Albemarle High, and two 13-year-olds from Jouett Middle were convicted in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
The Western and Albemarle students, now 17 and 16, have appealed and their cases, which will be heard in circuit court. The 16-year-old was held in juvenile detention for over three months before his release. Reporters were booted out of a bond hearing, and no one connected with the case will say why the youth is now home.
He and his father sat in the courtroom as Spencer pointed to Richmond News v. Commonwealth of Virginia, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the public has a presumptive right to attend criminal trials.
While juvenile cases are normally kept confidential, Virginia Code excludes the juveniles 14 or older and who have been charged with felonies. Proceedings should be open unless good cause is found and stated in a written public court order, according to state law.
It was the search for that written order that led the Hook to file a motion to intervene. Last month, Albemarle County Clerk Shelby Marshall told the Hook the file was closed, but couldn't produce a written document. "I was there when the judge said it," said Marshall.
In court June 27, Spencer stressed the severity of the alleged crimes and the importance of informing public of these cases.
Public defender Llezelle Dugger, who represents the 17-year-old, told Peatross that because of pre-trial publicity, the hearings should be closed, and if there's a jury trial, that would be open.
"Any trial can suffer from pretrial publicity," argued Spencer, who called the secrecy surrounding the case "troublesome" and that it had caused a concern among some parties that the commonwealth's attorney has information "they don't want to come out."
Peatross read the state statute concerning juvenile appeals and its exceptions, and concluded, "Nothing in this case would trigger the file being opened," he said. He also cited the voluminous size of the case file.
When Spencer, who is not an attorney, asked the judge if the Supreme Court decision shouldn't bear on his decision, Peatross replied, "Unless these [state] statutes are unconstitutional."
Spencer wondered if anything could be done so that other citizens wouldn't have to file a motion and get a hearing to get documentation that appears to be demanded by state code.
"Maybe we should have a better line of communication," said Peatross, who promised Spencer that any time in the future a trial is closed, he would be able to see the piece of paper that says why.
The Hook went to Albemarle Circuit Court to ask that the alleged bomber files be opened, but all it got was to see the piece of paper that says why the files in the widely publicized case are closed.
PHOTO BY COURTENEY STUART