"The Republican" reports on how the proceedings are going, keeps up the pressure...
SPRINGFIELD - If Haleigh Poutre is called as a witness in the child abuse case against her stepfather, the media will have access to all proceedings.
A judge Wednesday upheld the rights of all media to have access to the proceedings in the trial of Jason D. Strickland. Hampden Superior Court Judge Judd J. Carhart did indicate, however, that he may ask for "accommodations" to be made in photographing and videotaping her testimony.
Carhart, concurring with the opposition voiced by The Republican, called the freedom of the press and its access to trials part of "the bedrock of this nation." The openness of America's courts "distinguishes this judicial system from courts around the world," he said.
The state Department of Children and Families had sought to prohibit the press from covering the child's testimony.
The ruling came as the defense lawyer for Strickland said he may include now 14-year-old Haleigh, left brain-injured three years ago, among his witnesses when the case goes to trial Oct. 29.
On the eve of the hearing Tuesday, the prosecution, after consulting with the state agency which now has custody of the child, dropped its plan to have Haleigh testify. And, while some thought it would end the girl's involvement in the case, attorney Alan J. Black told Carhart he was "not prepared at this time" to decide if he will pursue her as a witness. Carhart gave the defense two weeks to make that decision.
The judge said he will reschedule a hearing to determine if Haleigh is competent to testify if Black decides to use her as a witness at trial. If such a hearing occurs, Carhart said he will make sure the media makes accommodations that will be sensitive to the state's concerns for the girl.
Haleigh, who suffered a severe brain injury in September 2005, continues to undergo treatment in a Boston rehabilitation hospital. The judge said it is possible he would hold a hearing there, if medical experts involved in her treatment indicate it is necessary.
Attorney Joseph P. Pessolano, who represented The Republican, told Carhart during Wednesday's hearing that the Strickland case is of interest not only because of the extent of the child abuse alleged but also because of the shadow it cast on the state child protection agency and its response to Haleigh's well-being. "This case is notorious for a lot of reasons,'" he told Carhart.
After the hearing Pessolano said, "This court and this judge in particular are very sensitive to the rights of the press."
The Boston Globe joined The Republican's in fighting the media ban, but did not send an attorney to the proceedings Wednesday.
Strickland, 34, formerly of Westfield, and his late wife, Holli A. Strickland, Haleigh's adoptive mother, were charged with the abuse in Westfield which left the child comatose with a severe brain injury three years ago.
Holli Strickland was dead within days of her arrest in September 2005, the victim, West Springfield police said, of gunshot wounds in a murder-suicide with her grandmother.
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