Court Cases

Brener Urges Importance Of Gag Order In Sean Taylor Case by Unknown

A judge imposed a gag order in the case of slain Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor on Tuesday, saying continued publicity could compromise the trial of four men charged with murder.Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy said attorneys for the four men have used the media with no regard for the effect their statements have on their co-defendants.

“There is a substantial likelihood that continued pretrial publicity without restraint will jeopardize the defendants’ right to due process,” the Miami-Dade County circuit judge ruled. Taylor died Nov. 27, a day after he was shot in the bedroom of his home in what police have called a botched burglary. Charged with first-degree felony murder and armed burglary in the case are Charles Wardlow, 18; Jason Mitchell, 19; Venjah Hunte, 20; and the accused gunman, Eric Rivera, 17. All remain behind bars while awaiting a trial tentatively scheduled for April.

David Brener, an attorney for defendant Charles Wardlow, said defense attorneys’ statements about their clients being remorseful, expectations of a quick resolution and belief that the case would not go to trial are harmful. “It implies the guilt of all the defendants,” Brener said. Murphy’s order prohibits lawyers, law enforcement and Taylor’s family from making comments about evidence in the case, defendants’ statements and appropriate sentences. It also will result in the redaction of investigative material eventually released to the press, removing any statements related to potential confessions made by defendants.

Murphy still must review the recordings and transcripts of defendants’ statements to police to decide what exactly falls under his order. Prosecutors and defense attorneys found themselves generally in agreement over the move, but the ruling was a blow to members of the news media, who fought the gag order. Scott Ponce, a lawyer representing The Miami Herald and CNN, said because he hasn’t even been able to review investigative materials, it’s impossible to know whether information is rightfully redacted.

“Having never seen the statements before, we won’t know what the judge has exempted and what he hasn’t exempted,” said Ponce, who was joined by an attorney representing The Washington Post and Newsweek.