Wyoming justices side with newspaper, allow trial witness ID – Washington Times

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) – The Wyoming Supreme Court sided with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle newspaper Monday and reversed a lower court that sought to prohibit news media from identifying juveniles who will testify during a murder trial in Cheyenne.

The justices agreed with the newspaper’s argument that if any of the juvenile witnesses has been threatened, his or her identity already must be known to the perpetrator.

The Cheyenne newspaper sought the review last week, and the Supreme Court granted it on an expedited basis. The justices’ reversal of the order by Laramie County District Judge Thomas Campbell wasn’t surprising, said the newspaper’s executive editor, D. Reed Eckhardt.

“We would’ve been shocked if the court had ruled in any other way. Clearly this is a decision that editors of a paper should make and not a judge on a bench,” Eckhardt said.

The matter comes up as Phillip Sam goes to trial this week for the shooting death of 19-year-old Tyler Burns in Cheyenne last October. The shooting happened after the two and several other teenagers met for a prearranged fight over vandalism to a vehicle, according to police.

Sam was 16 at the time, but he is being tried as an adult. He is charged with one count of first-degree murder and 12 counts of aggravated assault.

The Tribune Eagle intends to identify juvenile witnesses in its reporting of the trial, Eckhardt said.

“It is our belief that anything that occurs in open court should be reported as such. There’s no question that the minors who will be testifying will be identified by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other people regardless,” Eckhardt said.

The justices also rejected an argument filed by the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office that sought to keep the media from identifying juvenile witnesses. The state pointed to a similar prohibition in an Illinois juvenile court case at which a judge granted news media access while barring the public from the proceedings.

This trial is substantially different because it will be open to the public, newspaper attorney Bruce Moats said.

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