Judge Considers Sealing Evidence In Barahona Trial
Defense Attorneys Say Revealing Evidence Compromises Fair Trial
by Glenna Milberg
MIAMI -- The glare of publicity in the Casey Anthony trial was brought up in a Miami-Dade courtroom Wednesday as a judge decided whether to seal evidence in the murder case against Jorge and Carmen Barahona.
The Barahonas are charged with murder in the death of their adopted daughter, Nubia, 10, who was found dead in the back of her adoptive father's truck on Feb. 14. Her brother, Victor, was found doused with chemicals and close to death on the same day his sister was discovered. He is recovering in an undisclosed location.
"You just blink your eye, and news and information can be released to the other side of the world in a moment," said Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel.
Prosecutors, who were originally neutral on the question of sealing evidence, raised red flags.
"Are we going to have closed proceedings up until the point a jury is selected? Is that the slippery slope we're getting to? That's pretty unprecedented," said prosecutor Penny Brll.
"In this arena, the press is going to be here. It's transparency. It's the United States of America,” said prosecutor Gail Levine.
Before the hearing, Zabel heard from her colleague, Judge Dennis Murphy, who recently closed a hearing in the Sean Taylor murder case to the media and the public.
"Are there alternatives short of closure that will protect the public?" asked Scott Pons, one of the attorneys representing news outlets.
In recent history, high-profile Miami-Dade cases were moved to Orlando in Orange County, deemed an easier place to pick untainted juries, but stayed open to the public.
"Jorge Barahona should not be made to go to Tallahassee or Orlando or some other place. He has a right to be tried in this community," said his attorney, Edith Georgi.
WPLG attorney Karen Kammer said knowledge about a case doesn't equate to bias. The jury questioning process is meant to weed out jurors who cannot be impartial or judge a case solely on evidence presented in court.
"It happens thousands of times in this courthouse where you can find fair juries," said Kammer. "It may not be done in an hour; it may take a week, it may take two weeks."
Many details of Nubia Barahona’s life and death are already in the public domain, from the day she was found in February to the day her parents learned their murder case qualified for the death penalty.
"You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube," said Pons. "And closure can't be more broad than necessary to protect the defendants."