Judge sets hearing to unseal documents in Parsons

Posted May 22, 2014

A southeast Kansas judge has set a hearing for 10 a.m. Friday, July 25 on a motion to intervene to unseal documents in a Parsons quadruple murder case.

Judge Robert J. Fleming will conduct the hearing at Labette County Judicial Center, 201 S. Central, in Parsons.

Max Kautsch, an attorney representing the Parsons Sun, Montgomery County Chronicle and KOAM-TV in Pittsburg filed the motion May 19 in the murder case against David Cornell Bennett, Jr. Bennett is charged in the Nov. 25, 2013, murders of a Parsons mother and her three children, ages 9, 6 and 4.

Since the arrest of the defendant on Nov. 26, 2013, motions have been filed to seal almost all documents filed in the case. The case has been handled almost exclusively by the Kansas Attorney General's Office.

Kautsch says in his motion to intervene that documents "ordinarily" available to the public are sealed and "the public's access to information regarding the progress of this case has been chilled. This case is proceeding in secret."

The media attorney argues in his motion that two cases, The Wichita Eagle Beacon Company v. Owens (2001) and Kansas City Star v. Fossey (1981) both stated a presumption of openness in criminal cases.

In Owens, the court concluded that records and proceedings may be closed "only if the dissemination of information from the pretrial proceeding and its record would create a clear and present danger to the fairness of the trial, and the prejudicial effect of such information on trial fairness cannot be avoided by any reasonable alternative means."

In Fossey, the Kansas Supreme Court adopted the American Bar Association's Fair Trial and Free Press Standard 8-3.2 and held the standard would "govern the closure issues in future cases."

Kautsch's brief argues that under that standard, a trial court may close a preliminary hearing, bail hearing or any other pretrial hearing, including a motion to suppress, and may seal a record only if:

• The dissemination of information would create a clear and present danger to the fairness of the trial;

• The prejudicial effect cannot be avoided by reasonable alternative means, which include continuance, severance, change of venue, change of venire, intensive voir dire, additional preemptory challenges, sequestration of the jury and admonitory instructions to the jury.

The Fossey decision also made clear a decision to close proceedings or seal records requires a hearing.

Click here to view the motion to internene. Click here to read the motions to seal. Click here to read the notice of hearing.