TV station to turn over disputed tapes

Monday, June 22, 1998

A Tennessee television station announced last week that it will not appeal a judge's order to turn over hours of taped telephone conversations with a multiple-murder suspect to defense attorneys.

An attorney representing the Nashville station had argued that the material was protected under the state's media shield law, which prohibits courts from forcing anyone who collects information gathered for publication or broadcast to reveal the information or its source, except under certain conditions.

Ruling that suspect Paul Dennis Reid's lawyers have proven a “compelling and overriding public interest,” Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge John Gasaway on June 5 ordered WTVF-TV to release more than five hours of audiotapes reporter Jennifer Kraus made during interviews with Reid.

While reporter's privilege “is quite restrictive and interpreted narrowly, it is not absolute,” Gasaway said.

WTVF news director Mike Cutler said: “Our attorney advised us that the Tennessee newsman's shield law is a qualified privilege, so a judge can set it aside if he chooses.

“We could take it to an appeal, but Judge Gasaway had done his homework. We thought his ruling was based on a lot of thought and research; he made a compelling argument for it. The severity of the case overruled the shield law.”

During conversations with Kraus and with The Tennessean, Reid denied any
any involvement in the murder-robberies that took the lives of five employees at two fast-food restaurants in Nashville in February and March 1997, and of two employees at a Baskin-Robbins in Clarksville in April 1997. He also attempted to refute evidence against him, such as his fingerprints being found on a victim's video store ID card.

Station attorney Ron Harris did not return phone calls.

Reid's trial is set to begin July 20. The prosecution is expected to call Kraus to testify about the 11 minutes of tape that the station broadcast last June.