Hearing set for gag order arguments in church shooting

Nicholson

A Charleston court will hear arguments Wednesday for and against the release of information in the slayings of nine worshippers at Emanuel AME Church.

An order signed Tuesday by 9th Circuit Court Judge J.C. Nicholson Jr. states the hearing will begin at 9:30 a.m.

Nicholson issued the gag order on July 10, citing his own concerns that the release of information about the June 17 shooting could jeopardize a fair trial for suspect Dylann Roof. Nicholson later added that he feared 911 calls and graphic crime scene photographs could compromise the privacy of the victims’ families that is guarded by the S.C. Victim’s Bill of Rights.

Roof, 21, was indicted on state and federal charges, including hate crimes, that accuse him of fatally shooting nine people and trying to kill three others at the historically black church on Calhoun Street. Roof, who is white, could face the death penalty.

Attorneys Jay Bender and Taylor Smith, both of Columbia represent news organizations, including The Post and Courier, and have asked Nicholson to lift his gag order.

They have argued in court documents that privacy concerns and Roof’s right to a fair trial do not warrant the order that barred authorities from releasing public records, including 911 calls.

The reasons for the order also do not outweigh the public’s right to know how authorities responded to the mass killing, they said.

Media organizations have cited the S.C. Freedom of Information Act in asking police agencies for documents and other data. The newspaper has not requested crime scene photos.

Attorneys for victims’ relatives, survivors and the federal government have asked Nicholson to extend his temporary order.

Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughtonPC.