A Lee County judge has sealed the case file of the Smiths Station, Ala., man charged with the March murder of an Auburn University freshman.
Defense attorneys filed a motion last month to have the file sealed in an effort to control pretrial publicity in Courtney Larrell Lockhart's case — a move The University of Alabama's Capital Defense Law Clinic director called dramatic and rare.
"The judge is really going to have to strongly consider (Lockhart's) right to a fair trial," said Talitha Powers Bailey, the clinic's director. "When publicity goes out to the general public, that's his jury pool."
The order to seal the case, written by Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob A. Walker III, says District Attorney Nick Abbott's office supported the motion.
The order means the public cannot access Lockhart’s file through the circuit clerk’s office.Lockhart, 23, faces three capital murder charges — one for each allegation in the March 4 robbery, kidnapping and attempted rape of Lauren Burk, 18. He also faces a fourth, unrelated charge in the robbery of a Short Stop Convenience Store.
Lockhart pleaded not guilty to all the charges at his arraignment.
On June 11, Walker put a hold on the case and ordered an evaluation of Lockhart's ''competency to stand trial and mental state at the time of the offense.'' He also signed an order allowing authorities to obtain saliva samples from Lockhart.
A gag order had already been issued to keep anyone involved in the case from publicly discussing it.
The first status conference for Lockhart's case is scheduled for Sept. 3. Walker said at Lockhart's June 4 arraignment that he intended to schedule a series of such conferences starting in the late summer or early fall.