S.D. judge silences participants in manslaughter case

Tuesday, December 21, 1999

A South Dakota judge has issued a gag order in the case against two former state boot-camp employees charged in the death of a 14-year-old girl.

Circuit Judge Ronald K. Miller granted on Dec. 16 the state’s request for a gag order in the case against Tamara Wagaman and Raelene Layne. The women are charged with manslaughter and child abuse in the July 21 death of Gina Score at the State Training School.

“I think it’s appealable,” said attorney Jon Arneson in reaction to the order. Arneson is representing 11 South Dakota news organizations opposed to the gag order.

The media groups should decide this week whether to appeal the decision, he said.

The gag order bars the defendants, attorneys, judicial officers, law enforcement officers, jurors and witnesses from discussing the case outside the courtroom. It also bans cameras and recording equipment from the third floor of the courthouse where the trial will be held.

The state attorney general’s office had requested the gag order, saying it was needed to ensure a fair trial. Bob Gray, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, refused to comment when contacted by the First Amendment Center Online, saying the order prevented him from doing so.

At a hearing Dec. 10, Arneson argued that the order would violate the constitutional right to free speech and would hinder South Dakotans’ right to know what is happening in a public institution.

He argued that because lawyers must abide by a code of ethics limiting what they can say about a case, a gag order is unnecessary.

“We’re hoping that gag orders are not imposed summarily and routinely without considering First Amendment rights in the interest of the public and the media,” Arneson said after the Dec. 10 hearing.

The attorney general’s office argued that the gag order would not hinder news coverage. Larry Long, chief deputy attorney general, said the media had come “to the table late,” having not opposed gag orders in two previous high-profile trials. Long added that those cases were covered extensively by the media despite the gag orders.

Attorneys for both women sided with the state in supporting the gag order.

His client’s “rights in this trial supersede any First Amendment rights (of the press),” said Tim Whalen, Layne’s lawyer. Whalen said the gag order prevented him from commenting when contacted by the First Amendment Center Online.

Jim Abourezk, Wagaman’s lawyer, initially opposed the order, saying the state had had months to publicly vilify his client, and the gag order would prevent her from telling her story. He said he decided to support the order because Wagaman asked him to, out of concern that she would not receive a fair trial otherwise. Abourezk could not be reached for comment.

In issuing his decision, Miller said there had been “extensive” print and broadcast coverage of the Score case by the media.

“This court further finds that there is a reasonable likelihood of prejudicial pretrial publicity which would make it difficult to impanel an impartial jury which would tend to prevent a fair trial,” Miller wrote in his three-page order.

Miller said the order did not prevent the legislative or executive branches of state government “from conducting any interviews relating to this matter in the normal course of their duties.”

Score died of heat exhaustion after collapsing during a mandatory 2.7-mile run at the camp. State investigators allege that Wagaman and Layne violated state regulations by forcing Score to continue running after she voiced a need to stop. Investigators also allege that the women left Score on the ground for hours after she collapsed because they thought she was faking her injuries.

A preliminary hearing for Wagaman and Layne is scheduled for Jan. 11.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.