Superior Court Judge John Allen issued a gag order Thursday that will prohibit attorneys and law enforcement personnel involved in the Michael Curry murder case from talking to the media.
Curry faces murder charges in the Aug. 29, 1985, slayings of his wife Ann, 24, who was eight months’ pregnant, daughter Erika, 4, and son Ryan, 20 months, all found in the family’s Rockhurst Drive home in east Columbus. They had been hacked to death with a bush ax, a tool used to clear heavy brush.
District Attorney Julia Slater asked for the gag order on Wednesday, prompting Allen to set a hearing for Friday morning. That hearing was canceled late Thursday after all parties agreed to the order.
Ledger-Enquirer reporter Tim Chitwood — who covered the murder and broke news of Curry’s arrest earlier this year — had been summoned to the hearing because of a Wednesday newspaper story correcting previous reports that on the day of the slayings, Curry bought a fan at the Macon Road Kmart shortly after 1 p.m.
Seeking a change of venue for Curry’s trial, Public Defender Bob Wadkins complained in a hearing Tuesday that the Ledger-Enquirer consistently had repeated that error, though a receipt showed Curry bought the fan at 12:55 p.m. Chitwood got a copy of the receipt from the public defender’s office and posted it online, prompting the district attorney to seek the gag order.
Allen’s order, which runs “until further order of this court,” applies to the defense attorney’s office, the district attorney and those who work in her office, employees of the Columbus Police Department, Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office, Superior Court clerk’s office, state and defense witnesses and anyone who would act on behalf of one of the parties in the order.
The case drew intense local media coverage 24 years ago when the murders occurred. That coverage intensified when Curry was arrested May 20 of this year in Dalton, Ga., where he was working for a local school district’s maintenance department. He since has been held in the Muscogee County jail, though Allen this past Tuesday set his bond at $300,000 — $100,000 for each of the three victims.
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer Editor Ben Holden said he respected Allen’s decision.
“While we understand the positions of the court, police department, public defender and district attorney, we would always prefer to have the ability to interview participants in such an important public trial,” Holden said. “That said, if the gag order ensures a fair trial and yields justice, we can live with that.”
The trial was set for Oct. 5, though Allen said Tuesday that was unlikely. The judge has yet to rule on the change of venue request.