The Arizona Republic and four other media outlets have filed a special action in the Arizona Court of Appeals to protest a Maricopa County Superior Court judge’s order barring publication or airing of a prosecutor’s name or image in coverage of a high-profile murder case.

On Nov. 6, Judge Erin Otis ordered that the media neither photograph nor even mention the name of the lead prosecutor, a longtime deputy county attorney. 

Otis, who spent nine years as a deputy Maricopa County attorney before she was appointed to the bench in 2012, said she made the order because the prosecutor was a victim in another case that a different jury was deliberating.

Attorney David Bodney, who represents The Arizona Republic, the Associated Press and Channels 3, 5 and 12 in the matter, told Otis in court that day that her unprecedented order placed an unconstitutional prior restraint on the media. He pointed out that Arizona court rules state that victims and witnesses can be protected from being photographed or video recorded in certain circumstances, but that there no mention that prosecutors should be shielded from view in unrelated cases, as they are the representatives of the government.

Bodney also pointed out that there were more conventional and less limiting means to protect the integrity in the other trial, such as ordering jurors not to follow media coverage. 

Otis responded that the media could freely use the name of the second-chair prosecutor in the case, and the media would be able to use the lead prosecutor’s name again when her other case had come to a close.

Both cases have since been resolved. John Allen was sentenced to death Thursday for the 2011 murder of his wife’s cousin. The prosecutor’s stalker, Albert Heitzmann, was found guilty of stalking on Nov. 7. A court official, via email, conveyed the message that media outlets were again free to use the prosecutor’s name. 

This week, the media outlets filed a petition for special action, which is an expedited appeal of a judge’s order, to the Arizona Court of Appeals, noting that the order could set an unconstitutional precedent. It also stated that an email from a court public-information officer is not the equivalent of a judge’s lifting an order.

The appeals court set a hearing date for Dec. 5.

Allen was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of his wife’s cousin, 10-year-old Ame Deal, who died in July 2011 after being locked in a plastic footlocker as punishment and left overnight. Allen’s wife, Sammantha Allen, had already been sentenced to death for the murder, and three other relatives have been sentenced to prison for crimes related to the child’s death.

The lead prosecutor had tried the Sammantha Allen case, as well, and the prosecutor’s name had been printed in numerous stories about that trial and the current one, as well as numerous high-profile murder cases over decades.

During the Nov. 6 hearing, Otis said that she did not want the jury in the Heitzmann case to know that the alleged victim was currently trying a murder case. At the time, that jury was deliberating Heitzmann’s guilt or innocence. 

Otis was a sex-crimes prosecutor at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office from 2003, the year after she graduated from law school, until 2012, when she was appointed to the Maricopa County Superior Court.

The week before her order regarding the prosecutor’s name and image, Otis denied a request for camera coverage in the courtroom from The Republic, deeming it untimely. Judges have recently begun insisting on a seven-day advance scheduling rule for camera coverage. In years past, camera requests were done more informally.

Bodney, The Republic and other media outlets have also been battling over camera coverage in other ongoing murder cases in Maricopa County Superior Court.


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