Deputies kept reporters out of courtrooms during trials

November 9, 2019 GMT

CONWAY, S.C. (AP) — Deputies in a South Carolina county have denied reporters access to courtrooms in two different recent trials.

Journalists were kept out of courtrooms during jury selection in a recent murder trial and a high-profile kidnapping trial, The Sun News of Myrtle Beach reported.

The U.S. Constitution and the state Supreme Court have said courtrooms must be open and access for reporters is vital to the right of free speech and a fair trial.

Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson said he has never told deputies to block reporters.

“We don’t want to keep anything from the public,” said Thompson, who also told the newspaper his deputies were acting to protect court security and had no plans to change their practices.

The deputies in both cases said the courtrooms were crowded with potential jurors so there was no room.

The U.S. Supreme Court requires courtroom security take steps like bringing in smaller pools of jurors before keeping the public out.

Reporters having access to courtrooms is important because they can be the public’s eyes and ears when they can’t attend an entire trial, South Carolina Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers said.

“The fact that the public has access to trial helps assure they will be fair and completely done,” Rogers said.

Several reporters were kept out of a courtroom in September as jury selection took place in the trial of Sidney Moorer, who was charged with kidnapping a woman who has not been seen in nearly six years.

Deputies told them the room was too crowded and their presence would disturb the proceedings. They were kept out even as other people entered and left the Horry County courtroom.

A reporter from The Sun News also was kept out of a public session of jury selection earlier this month for a double murder trial. The reporter had a note delivered to a judge, who immediately allowed the reporter and a photographer inside.


Information from: The Sun News, http://www.thesunnews.com/