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updated: 2/17/2012 9:28 PM

Prosecutors, Madigan object to cameras at trial

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  • Nicholas Sheley is accused of killing eight people in Illinois and Missouri in 2008.

      Nicholas Sheley is accused of killing eight people in Illinois and Missouri in 2008.
    Associated Press file photo

 
Associated Press

State prosecutors and the Illinois attorney general's office objected Friday to one of the first efforts to allow cameras in a state courtroom -- the upcoming case of multiple murder suspect Nicholas Sheley -- arguing it would make it difficult to give him a fair trial.

Advocates of television cameras and photographers inside state courtrooms view Sheley's upcoming trial as a test of the Illinois Supreme Court's recently announced experiment with the practice.

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The high court said in January it would start allowing cameras and recorders in courts with the aim, if all goes well, of eventually pulling Illinois for good out of the group of 14 states that bans extensive media access.

In a Friday court filing, Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office and Whiteside County State's Attorney Gary Spencer asked for cameras to be barred from Sheley's trial and pretrial hearings.

Sheley is accused of killing eight people in Illinois and Missouri in 2008. He was convicted last year of beating a Galesburg man to death in June of that year, and his next trial is set to begin March 5 in Whiteside County.

The filing argues that the cameras and heavy media coverage from inside the courtroom will, among other things, make it harder to pick an impartial jury in a subsequent trial scheduled for him in the same alleged killing spree.

"My concern is that televising the first trial will make it more difficult to pick a jury for the second trial," Spencer told The Associated Press. "It will make a change of venue much more likely in the second trial."

Spencer said he does not oppose the idea of cameras in courtrooms. But he argued that a change of venue for the second trial would "break the bank" of his county of 60,000 people. He said the Sheley trials were already the most expensive the county has ever put on.

Sheley's defense attorney, Jeremy Karlin, said he also backs the idea of barring cameras in pretrial hearings where the side will sort through what evidence will be permissible or impermissible at trial.

But he said he would approve of cameras at the trial itself if the judge grants a defense request to move it to somewhere other than Whiteside County, which has been inundated with coverage.

"And the way to do that would be to grant our motion for a change of venue," he said. "Or in the alternative, if the judge is unwilling to do that, then we'd also ask that the cameras be barred as well."

Media representatives expressed disappointment in Friday's legal action.

"I would hope that maybe we could sit down and talk about their concerns and compromise," said Jennifer Fuller, president of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. "These trials are open to the public already and we are just asking to use our tools (cameras and recording devices) to tell the story to our listeners and viewers."

A week after announcing the policy on cameras in January, the Supreme Court chose the 14th Judicial Circuit to experiment with cameras in courtrooms because it is on the border with Iowa border, which already allows cameras in courtrooms. Officials said at the time that media there already have experience with the practice. The 14th circuit includes Whiteside, Henry, Mercer and Rock Island counties.

At the time the high court announced the test program, many observers said there was likely to be at least some resistance from some judges and prosecutors fearful of turning high-profile trials into media circuses.

Media groups, though, widely cheered the move, saying the presence of cameras and recorders would help broaden the general understanding of how courts work and enable better scrutiny of how well courts are fulfilling their duties.

Despite the state's request on the Sheley trial, Madigan's office said she remains committed to having cameras in courtrooms.

"The attorney general strongly supports cameras in the courtroom but ... this case presents some very unique issues and circumstances that the state's attorney, who is the lead prosecutor in this case, felt needed to be addressed by the court," said Madigan spokeswoman Natalie Bauer.

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