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Judge Denies Motion to Sequester

Aired August 15, 2002 - 12:59   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Back now to San Diego, where the defense attorney for David Westerfield arguing a change -- or rather sequestering the jurors -- let's listen in to the judge now.

JUDGE WILLIAM MUDD, SAN DIEGO COUNTY SUPREME COURT: ... the jurors are being harassed in any way by members of the public. Certainly I am concerned that suddenly, another source appears to be following the juror, a juror, in this particular case an alternate juror. And we intend to follow up on that.

But at this point in time, if anything, we collectively sense more media attention, because of the fact that we're more tuned into it. But the practical reality is it's not on television as much. The synopsis shows on the two major local networks are not in place. There is nothing going on. The talking heads are doing nothing but speculating about what the jury may or may not be thinking when they ask things. The amount of radio and -- well, radio coverage is up. I suppose it's entertainment that is out of L.A. I hope it stays in L.A. The show that those two gentlemen put on was -- almost made the court incredulous as to what it was they were attempting to do. But the court took steps to ensure that the jury did not see those folks or come in any close proximity to them.

And you know, the tragedy is that the majority of the people in this courtroom are abiding by the court's orders and working very hard to ensure that they, meaning the media, do not cause something to occur that is going to cause a mistrial. Not all of them feel that way, as is very apparent with the activities of the few.

At any rate, the motion to sequester is going to be denied.

The request for a meeting area and perhaps a lunch area is definitely one the court will put in place. We had it in place before. The system we're using now was, frankly, one that the jurors saw as an easy means of getting together. They may not feel that way now. So we'll go back to the system that we were using before, and keep them out of the public's eye. There is absolutely no reason for any media person to be around any of these jurors. So we'll watch that.

Now, since the media is here, at the close of business as the jury was leaving yesterday, before the court had the opportunity to talk to counsel, we received a note. The note reads as follows: "We would like to have Jennifer Shen's recall testimony re-read. Thanks. Juror No. 10." The wording of the note will go up on the Web site. As a result of what I can best be described as the frenzy that seems to be surrounding this court by a number of you, not all of you, the court has elected to close its doors to you folks and deal strictly with our public relations person. You folks just can't answer -- have one answer. You've got more questions, you want to grill my bailiff, you want to grill my clerk, and that's not acceptable. We're not here for you, believe it or not.

Donna Wasnuzki (ph) is taking over for Marilyn Lawrence (ph). Most of you have your e-mail addresses with her. In addition to that, she's got some other means of communicating with you, so when a note comes out, it will be quoted on her board. It'll come you to in e- mail.

The minutes of the day, which yesterday's minutes said we started -- they started at 9:00 and they left at 4:00, you were chomping on the bits to get copies of. You are welcome to them. They're going to be available starting as soon as we can get the notes from -- or Peggy's (ph) minute order from yesterday up there.

You folks are going to deal with my PR person. You're going to leave my bailiff and my clerk alone. It's not their job to deal with you. And like I said, one statement leads to 60 questions that they're not going to answer, nor am I. We will keep you fully posted. You'll be fully aware.

And I want to make one other point that seems to be lost in the transition of some of the commentators. When the court receives a note, I am not going to tell you. And the reason for that is very simple. I have to talk to the lawyers. I have to propose a response to the note. You will not hear about it right away. There will be a lag time. If you want to see the worst in that, you're welcome to it. But this is a capital case, and you go by steps. All right.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: San Diego Judge William Mudd admonishing news reporters there and letting them know -- letting the reporters know that he is tightening the reins in terms of communication and access from the reporters.

But in response to the request by the defense attorney of David Westerfield, the judge says he is still going to keep that jury unsequestered. The defense attorney said that the jurors are being intimidated by reporters, and because of this mass media coverage, they are feeling too much pressure by the reporters covering this event. But the judge says that he is not going to sequester the jurors.

We want to bring in our CNN Thelma Gutierrez, who has been covering this trial from the very beginning.

As we are now entering a week, almost a week of deliberations involving the jurors, it seems like it's getting a little hairy out there, particularly involving the coverage of this event -- Thelma.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, you are right, Fredricka. You know, we're entering six days now of deliberations, and the judge has had a somewhat contentious relationship with some members of the media. He expressed some concern about reporters and people who represent media outlets, following jurors to their cars, following them in and out of the courtroom.

He's also expressed concerns about information being leaked out of closed sessions. He threw a local radio producer out of the courtroom because of that.

And now, defense attorney Steven Feldman is asking the judge to sequester the jury, saying that he fears that the jury is under siege, and he said that he was concerned about a lynch mob mentality. He said that it's impossible for anyone, including the jurors, to move in and out of this courthouse without being looked upon, without being under siege, he said.

He says that these people are being intimidated, that they may feel pressured to return a guilty verdict, because of all of the scrutiny that they are getting right now.

Feldman said that he went online. He saw a court TV web site, and he learned that there had been some communication between a representative of the court and the jury. And that they had expressed their concern about being followed around, about being intimidated. Feldman said, again, he wanted the jury sequestered.

But Jeff Dusek, the lead prosecutor in this case, said that if jurors are being looked at while they're in this courthouse, that does not mean that they are under siege. He says that the jurors had not been approached, and that he felt that the defense attorney was maybe overreacting in this case.

Now, again, the judge said no to sequestration. He says that this is an extremely dedicated jury, and that he has no indication that they will violate any court order -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Thelma Gutierrez, thank you very much from San Diego.

So the jury in the David Westerfield case continue their day six of deliberation in the murder and kidnapping trial involving little Danielle Van Dam. All right, thanks very much.