County judge tells murder suspect to clam up

Wednesday, March 3, 1999

Paul Dennis Reid, a murder suspect with a penchant for talking to the news media, was barred this week by a Tennessee county judge from talking to reporters until after his three trials.

Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Cheryl Blackburn issued an order on March 1 prohibiting Reid from having any contact with the media. Blackburn's order, which applies to Reid's cases pending in Davidson County, came after the murder suspect called Nashville-area media outlets to deny allegations that he fashioned a weapon out of a chicken bone while awaiting trial in Nashville's Criminal Justice Center.

The order went into effect just prior to another series of interviews Reid had arranged for March 1. Reid is under a similar gag order in nearby Montgomery County, where he faces two murder charges in a robbery of a Clarksville Baskin-Robbins in April 1997.

Last year, attorneys for Reid successfully argued for a change of venue, claiming that pre-trial publicity would prevent their client from getting a fair trial in either Davidson or Montgomery counties. Reid's first trial — one on charges that he killed two employees at a Nashville Captain D's restaurant in February 1997 — is scheduled to start on April 5 in Knox County.

Reid also faces charges in the slaying of a Nashville McDonald's worker during a robbery in March 1997.

Last summer, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge John Gasaway ordered a Nashville television station to release more than five hours of audiotapes a reporter had made with Reid. The tapes included Reid's denial of any involvement in the murder-robberies.

The television station complied with the order.

“Despite the defendant's insistence that this publicity rendered it nearly impossible for him to receive a fair trial in Middle Tennessee, he continues to grant and even initiate interviews with the media,” Blackburn wrote in her order this week.

The judge added that continued efforts “will create an unreasonable risk that the media will taint that special venire in Knox County.”

The court order authorizes the Metro-Davidson County Sheriff's Department to monitor Reid's calls, visits and mail. It prohibits any telephone calls except those with his attorneys.

The gag order also includes all lawyers, potential witnesses and law enforcement agencies involved in Reid's Nashville cases.

Richard Hollow, a First Amendment attorney with the Tennessee Press Association, says gag orders placed on trial participants are much more acceptable than those applied to media outlets.

Hollow says courts recognize that gag orders — as well as changes of venue and sequestering — are necessary tools to “make sure that there is a fair trial and so you don't poison the jury pool with a lot of information that might be prejudicial.”

“While that might reflect on what the media may publish, it's not directed at the media,” Hollow said. “If the media finds something out, it's presumptively free to publish it.”