While I hesitate to term anything as “good news” in the murder case against Davis teenager Daniel William Marsh, I was heartened by Judge Tim Fall’s ruling that the Sept. 13 preliminary hearing for Marsh will be open to the public and the press.
I don’t blame Yolo County Deputy Public Defender Ron Johnson for trying to have the hearing closed. He’s been dealt a tough hand here and is doing what he can on behalf of his client.
According to Brett Johnson’s piece in last Friday’s Enterprise, on Aug. 9 Johnson filed a motion to close the preliminary hearing by arguing that “the information disseminated would be detrimental to a fair trial and would increase the sensational nature of the case.”
The sensational nature of the case can’t really be helped at this point. It’s hard to take back a brutal, vicious murder, whether committed by Marsh or by someone else. Closing the hearing will not change any of that.
Noted Brett Johnson in his piece: “Yolo Superior Court Judge Timothy Fall, who is presiding over the case involving the murders of Oliver ‘Chip’ Northup and Claudia Maupin, rejected the attempt to restrict the media and public from the preliminary hearing.”
There are several reasons why this decision is exactly as it should be, but none of them bear on the guilt or innocence of Daniel William Marsh, whose fate eventually will be decided by a jury.
To begin with, it’s never a good idea to mess with the First Amendment. The more judicial proceedings that are open, the better. The public’s right to know, especially in a case such as this, is a strong trump card to arguments to the contrary. The reasons simply aren’t there to exclude the press.
Additionally, it’s always a good idea for the public to know what’s going on inside a courtroom, where the proceedings are being carried out in the name of the people. When hearings are closed, no one can keep an eye on what’s happening inside the courtroom to be certain the aims of justice are being served.
Finally, if I were the defendant in a case like this and was factually innocent of the crime, I’d want every detail to be known so those who may have information leading to my innocence could come forward to help my defense. If a hearing is closed, the chance of such information emerging is substantially diminished.
Marsh, 15 at the time of the murders for which he is charged, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder with enhancements for the use of a knife as well as four special circumstances alleging multiple murders, heinous and depraved murder, lying in wait and torture.
Horrific charges, to be sure, the details of which will come out one way or another. Keeping those details from the public may make things more pleasant for all us, but there’s simply no legal reason to do so.
Johnson, the defense attorney, noted in his motion to the court that if the public were to learn of these details that have yet to be released, “it would be unlikely to be forgotten by the time of the actual trial.”
That may be true, but Judge Fall rightly noted that these concerns can be fully explored during jury selection and that even if these details do come out, Marsh’s right to a fair trial will not have been compromised.
It remains to be seen exactly what this evidence is that the public defender wishes us not to know, but suffice it to say, it will only add to the horror.
Still, that does not mean that Daniel Marsh is responsible for any of this horror or that a jury cannot separate these horrendous acts from his guilt or innocence.
Judge Fall put all these arguments on the scales of justice and rendered a prudent decision to assure us all that we will know fully what is happening in our name as the wheels of justice turn in this incredibly disturbing case.
— Reach Bob Dunning at email@example.com