Prosecutors Monday tried to prohibit news coverage of two witnesses expected to testify in the murder trial of Dequandrea Truitt and Shaquille Porter, charged in the 2013 New Year's Day shooting of Charles Foster Jr.
Assistant District Attorney Letitia Sikes and Senior Assistant District Attorney LaRae Moore argued the witnesses feared for their safety and would be reluctant to testify were their names and photographs to be in the news.
“They are very concerned about their safety,” said Sikes, whose motion to restrict media coverage of the trial didn’t identify the witnesses by name, designating them “Witness 1” and “Witness 2.”
“The State has reason to believe that Witness 1 and Witness 2 are at risk of reprisal, that their safety is likely to be compromised should their images, testimony and identity be revealed by the media and that the publication of that information by virtue of the presence of the media is likely to discourage witnesses to come forward, a public policy long recognized by the Supreme Court as the basis behind open courtrooms and certain closures thereof,” Sikes wrote in a motion opposed to allowing cameras in the courtroom.
She asked Superior Court Judge William Rumer either to ban cameras from the court throughout the trial, or to prohibit their photographing the two witnesses and likewise prohibit any reporting that would identify them.
Representing Truitt, attorney Stacey Jackson said such restrictions would violate his client’s right to an open trial, and allow prosecution witnesses to make accusations with no accountability — “pointing their finger and hiding their hand.”
Unlike juveniles or sexual assault victims entitled to protection under certain circumstances, the two witnesses the prosecution sought to protect were both adult men, one of whom gave an interview on TV news the day Foster died, Jackson said.
Attorney Michael Eddings, who represents Porter, said he saw nothing that distinguished the case from other murder trials with open media access.
Prosecutors said persuading witnesses to testify is difficult because they’re stigmatized as “snitches” for cooperating with police and subjected to intimidation.
Rumer denied the prosecution motion, so photographers were allowed to get pictures in the courtroom Monday.
Much of the first day was spent selecting a jury, which finally was seated at 5 p.m.
Eight women and four men make up the 12 jurors who will decide the case. One man and one woman each are alternates, who will hear evidence and step in should any of the 12 jurors be unable to complete the trial.
Otherwise alternates do not participate in jury deliberations once all evidence has been presented.
Rumer asked jurors to return Tuesday at 8:45 a.m. for opening statements.
Foster, 24, died after a stray bullet hit him in the left, upper chest around 2:15 a.m. Jan. 1, 2013, in the Majestic Sports Bar at 2102 Cusseta Road. Truitt, 22, and Porter, 20, each face two counts of murder, seven of aggravated assault and two of using firearms to commit a felony.