Judge issues gag order in Kentucky teen’s murder trial

Tuesday, June 30, 1998

The judge presiding over the trial of a Paducah, Ky., teen-ager accused of killing three fellow students at Heath High School issued a gag order last week because of “possible violations” of court rules on trial publicity and fairness to the opposing side.

The broad order issued by McCracken County Circuit Court Judge R. Jeffrey Hines in Commonwealth v. Carneal prohibits all attorneys, police officers and prospective witnesses from communicating publicly about many aspects of the case.

In the order, McCracken said the court had been “advised that there have been possible violations” of two Kentucky Supreme Court Rules concerning trial publicity and fairness to opposing party and counsel.

Kentucky Supreme Court Rule 3.6 governs trial publicity and provides that “a lawyer shall not make an extrajudicial statement that a reasonable person would expect to be disseminated by means of public communication if the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that it will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding.”

Kentucky Supreme Court Rule 3.4 governs conduct between opposing attorneys, instructing attorneys not to participate in the obstruction of evidence or to “state a personal opinion as to the justness of a cause.”

McCracken’s order prohibits the attorneys and others under their control from speaking on numerous aspects of the case, including: the prior criminal record of the defendant, the character or reputation of the defendant, the existence of any alleged confession, possible trial witnesses and their prospective testimony, the likelihood or possibility of a guilty plea, any opinion as to guilt or innocence or the “fact of the offense.”

The order came after Michael Breen, attorney for the families of the three students slain in December, released two mental evaluations of the defendant.

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, chief circuit court judge for McCracken County Will Shadoan suggested misconduct charges should be filed against Breen. “From what I have heard, there are grounds for a complaint, and one should be filed,” Shadoan said. “What he did was way out of line.”

Carneal is scheduled to stand trial Oct. 5 on the murder charges.