Judge declines to close court hearing in case involving deaths of 2 young boys
PROVO, Utah — A Utah judge declined Tuesday to close a future court hearing regarding evidence against a man charged with killing two 3-year-old Eagle Mountain boys who were hit while playing in a corral.
“This is a case of substantial public interest and under the First Amendment there is a presumptive right to the public of access to these proceedings,” 4th District Judge Robert Lund said in a hearing on Tuesday KSL.com reported.
Lund said closing a criminal proceeding from the public would be an “extraordinary remedy.”
KSL.com, KSL-TV, KSL NewsRadio, the Deseret News, and KUTV, Ch. 2 intervened in the case after attorneys for Kent Cody Barlow filed a motion seeking to close a suppression hearing and restrict public access to certain court records.
Barlow, 26, is charged with two counts of manslaughter, a second-degree felony, and possession or use of a controlled substance, a class A misdemeanor, accusing him of driving recklessly and causing the deaths of the two young boys, Odin Jeffrey Ratliff and Hunter Charlie Jackson. Both were playing with toy trucks and front-end loaders in a corral at the Cedar Valley Stables, near 2300 North and 16000 West, when police say the car Barlow was driving left the nearby road, crashed through the stables and hit the boys, killing them instantly.
Defense attorney Benjamin Aldana noted the significant amount of publicity regarding the case and questioned whether his client could receive a fair trial. In his motion, he cited a public statement from the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole the day after the crash saying Barlow “will be held accountable for the decisions he selfishly made.”
Aldana on Tuesday asked the court to close the portion of a hearing where the court will consider whether statements Barlow made to police shortly after the crash are admissible at trial.
David Reymann, attorney for the media organizations, said the public has a right to know what is occurring during legal proceedings.
“The courts do the public’s business, and we have a history of open proceedings that dates back centuries to before this country even existed,” Reymann told KSL.com.
He said there has never been a case in Utah where it was determined that a defendant did not receive a fair trial because of pretrial publicity.
Often, conversations about suppression of evidence in a criminal case will lead to a plea bargain instead of a trial, Reymann argued, saying suppression hearings are critically important for the public to have access to and that right has been protected and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Reymann said closing court proceedings should be extremely rare because there are other remedies to make sure defendants receive fair trials. Simply being a high profile case is not reason enough to close court hearings, he added.
Barlow invited two other people into his car to show it off on May 2, according to previous court testimony. The passengers testified that they had started to tell Barlow to slow down before he hit a dip in the road, lost control and crashed into the corral. A blood draw indicated that Barlow had methamphetamine in his system at the time, a witness testified.
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