WOODLAND — When attorneys in the Daniel Marsh double-homicide case debate whether the teen’s alleged confession to police should be excluded from his upcoming trial, those arguments will be held in an open courtroom, a Yolo Superior Court judge ruled Thursday.
With that decision, Judge David Reed rejected a bid by Marsh public defender Ron Johnson to ban the public — including the media — from the Feb. 28 hearing, as well as seal the transcript of the proceedings and issue a gag order that would have prevented attorneys from discussing the matter outside of court.
The 16-year-old Marsh is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, along with the special-circumstance allegations of multiple murders, torture and lying in wait, in connection with April 14 stabbings of Oliver “Chip” Northup, 87, and his wife Claudia Maupin, 76. Both were found slain in the bedroom of their Cowell Boulevard condominium.
Marsh, who has pleaded not guilty, is being tried as an adult.
The motion to close the suppression hearing was opposed by the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office and media outlets including The Davis Enterprise, The Daily Democrat, The Sacramento Bee and The Reporter in Vacaville, whose attorney, Stephen J. Burns, noted that Marsh’s alleged confession already had been publicized following the teen’s preliminary hearing last September.
In court Thursday, Johnson countered that, with Marsh’s trial scheduled to begin next month, another public airing of the alleged confession could prejudice his client by hampering his ability to find an impartial jury.
Furthermore, while the preliminary hearing was an hour long — much of it a detective’s summary of Marsh’s reported statements — the teen’s videotaped interview is about five hours in length, with “significantly more detail than what was heard previously,” Johnson said.
In his ruling, Reed said that while the public’s right to attend court proceedings must be carefully balanced against a defendant’s right to a fair trial, the defense’s arguments “have not established clearly that there’s a substantial probability of prejudice if the hearing is not closed to the public.”
However, Reed did grant Johnson’s request that he view the video of Marsh’s five-hour interview by law enforcement, recorded on the day of his arrest last June, in his chambers rather than in open court.
“If the court finds it appropriate after seeing it that that should be sealed, a finding will be made at that time to support that conclusion,” Reed said.
Burns, the attorney representing the media, said Reed made the right call in keeping the hearing open.
“The public is much better served when the press is allowed to attend and monitor these kinds of significant proceedings,” he said. A previous motion by Johnson to close Marsh’s preliminary hearing to the public also was denied.
Johnson said in court that he does not plan to call any witnesses to testify during the hearing on the suppression motion, which was expected to be filed on Thursday afternoon.
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene