NEWS- Info flow: Camblos blasts baby victim ID
The Albemarle Commonwealth's Attorney's Office called a press conference last Friday, and they were steaming. The reason? The Daily Progress had revealed the name of eight-month-old Alexis "Ali" McFadyen, who died November 16, allegedly a victim of shaken-baby syndrome.
"We are very disappointed and dismayed that the Daily Progress chose to release the name of the infant victim," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Cynthia Murray in a statement. "We have consistently tried to balance the right of the public to know versus the wishes of the family as they deal with this tragedy."
But some free speech advocates see it differently.
"There's certainly some privacy protection for victims, but that's live victims," says Frosty Landon with the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. "I can't think of anything that would allow [a victim's name] to be withheld." But that's what happened.
Albemarle police issued a press release February 13 announcing the arrest of Robert Wayne Wyant, 32, for second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and felony child abuse– but not the name of the girl. Wyant was a friend of the girl's family, and she was under his care, Murray said. Her death was declared a homicide by blunt force trauma to the head consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
Looking at court records, the autopsy report, and obituaries, according to sources cited in his article, Progress reporter Rob Seal (who declined to speak with the Hook for this story) determined McFadyen was the victim. Police and the commonwealth's attorney declined to release the name of the victim and how she died– until after Seal's story was published February 16.
The court file mentions the death of an infant designated only as "A.M.," and Commonwealth's Attorney James Camblos, who is said to be a finalist for the position of Albemarle Circuit Court judge, says the press would be wise to be super-cautious. "What if this were the one in a million where it was not the same A.M.?" Camblos asks.
Wendell Cochran, journalism ethics professor at American University, expresses surprise at any outrage over naming names.
"I can't conjure an example where naming a murder victim would be an ethical problem for a journalist," says Cochran. "The press would not be doing its job if it routinely withheld names of victims. Yes, it's a horrible thing for the family. But the alternative seems a lot worse to me."
However, Jeff Seglin, who writes a weekly ethics column for the New York Times, calls the situation a gray area and suggests doing the story without adding pain to a victim's family.
"You have to ask, what's to be gained by bringing that name to the story," says Seglin. "If the only reason for it to be there is for the titillation factor, there's absolutely no reason for it to be there. All it does then is add additional pain for the family."
Cochran suggests that because family members, church members, and others in the community already know, it's a short trip to the archives– especially knowing the date of the victim's death– to find her obituary. "Privacy typically belongs to an individual," says Cochran. "It dies with them."
"When somebody is murdered, it's not something the community can keep quiet," agrees Landon. "When someone dies, privacy ends."
Scottsville resident Robert Wyant, a former volunteer with the East Rivanna Volunteer Fire Company, was a family friend allegedly looking after eight-month old "Ali" McFadyen when she sustained the injuries November 14 that caused her death two days later.
PHOTO COURTESY ALBEMARLE POLICE