Judge issues gag order

Friday, February 3, 2012

Marshall County Juvenile Court Judge Lee Bussart-Bowles issued a "gag order" this week at a hearing for Jerron Blake Braden, directing court officers and others present to refrain from disclosing developments regarding the 18-year-old man's case.

Braden is accused in the shooting death of Penny Blackwell Coyle who was found dead in her car Nov. 21 on Rock Crusher Road. Records that have been public for several weeks report that Braden, of Lewisburg, was taken into custody on Dec. 20.

Braden appeared in juvenile court before Bussart-Bowles wearing a bulletproof vest, or a garment that looks like that kind of vest, on a petition asking the court to declare him delinquent. State prosecutors had already asked Judge Bowles to to transfer his case to circuit court. Braden turned 18 two days after Coyle's death.

Bussart-Bowles started off by saying she was going to "grant the motion for continuance" for the transfer hearing for Braden.That is, she decided to rule later on whether his case should be transferred to circuit court where he could be tried as an adult.

"Given the severity of the situation, I'm going to issue a gag order," Bussart-Bowles said, listing: no disclosure of his status or location; no "advertising" of the date for which the hearing was re-set; no disclosure of Braden's mental or physical health.

"I do not want anyone to discuss this," Bussart-Bowles stated. "It is a very sensitive matter.

"There are always specific circumstances, including the safety of the defendant," she said.

"This is a juvenile matter," the judge said, warning those within earshot to "consult counsel on the ramifications of disclosing a juvenile record."

Among the records that have been public documents with information that might appear to be in conflict with Bussart-Bowles' order were pages at the Internet Web site serving the Marshall County Sheriff's Department. That address is www.jailtracker.com/marshallcounty/marshall_inmatelist.html.

The Web site pages included the young defendant's name on a list of county jail inmates. The other page included much of his booking sheet.

The sheriff was in court Monday when the judge orally announced the gag order.

The next day, Dalton said Braden's "pending status," photo and other information on the Internet Web site were not subject to the gag order as announced in open court.

"No, because he's been on there [his information and mug shot had been displayed on the Internet website] since Jan. 20," the sheriff said Tuesday morning, obviously aware of the department's continued display. "I don't think the gag order pertains to that, but if they want it off, I'd want a court order to say so."

Several hours later, the page of the tracker Web site with Braden's name and booking sheet had been removed.

While speaking Tuesday morning on the phone, Dalton declined to talk about Braden's case, and he agreed that applied to all in his department.

Bussart-Bowles issued the written order by fax to the Tribune which received the document marked 11:40 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31.

"I think I need to follow the judge's order," Dalton said during that Tuesday morning telephone interview.

What followed Bussart-Bowles' gag order announcement in juvenile court Monday morning were typical pre-trial motions as submitted by Lewisburg-based attorney David McKenzie who'd been appointed to represent Braden. McKenzie obtained court support for his efforts to acquire various kinds of records.

The Marshall County Tribune consulted three attorneys who explained that orders that purport to restrict freedom of the press - under circumstances as in this case - amount to prior restraint which is unconstitutional. One of the three attorneys stated that a gag order directed at the press should be reviewed by a higher court with a presumption that such an order is unconstitutional. Prior restraint, when directed by the government at the free press, has long been held as unconstitutional.

The Marshall Tribune has previously refrained from reporting on the location of the defendant and other aspects of this case.

One record obtained for this news account of the hearing was the now-former pages of the Jail Tracker Web site.

Others include press releases by the sheriff's department. Those documents have been used by other media to report on this case.