By Mick Hinton
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — Attorney Jose Baez, who successfully defended a Florida mother accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter, said Thursday that the media cannot be ignored in such high-profile cases.
“I would like to say that you can manage the media, but you can’t,” Baez said. “You have to sit down and come up with a media plan” before the trial even starts.
Baez’s assertion was challenged by Oklahoma County district attorney David Prater, who said the attention needs to be focused on the 12 jurors hearing a case, rather than trying the case in the media.
Prater and Baez were panelists at the Oklahoma Bar Association’s annual meeting that continues today in Oklahoma City.
Much of the panel discussion dealt with the murder case against pharmacist Jerome Ersland, who was convicted of shooting a robber a half dozen times.
OETA Managing Editor Dick Pryor moderated the panel in discussing “Media and the High-Profile Case.”
Prater chastised fellow prosecutors around the country who appear on television calling a defendant such things as “a monster,” even before a verdict is rendered.
Baez said the way the game works on the other side is police reports are made public as if they were the truth, while the defendant is only being accused via charges filed in a case.
KWTV News 9 reporter Adrianna Iwasinski told fellow panelists that the media has a job to do, which is to present information to the public about what is happening in a trial.
She acknowledged that it is hard for a television reporter to retell in a couple of minutes what has been presented over an eight-hour day in a courtroom. Iwasinski said she would like to have even two and half minutes on a story, but that rarely happens.
Iwasinski said many journalists strive to tell the story accurately, contrary to what the public might think. She said the editors decide how a trial should be covered, if at all.
Panelist Jacqui Ford, who had defended pharmacist Ersland, applauded The Norman Transcript for providing what she termed “the best” continuous coverage of a recent trial because the newspaper had reporters continually hearing courtroom testimony.
Unlike Baez, Ford said she does not talk to the media until a defendant’s case has been tried because it would not be fair to the defendant.
Prater was presented the Fern Holland Courageous Lawyer Award for cases such as the pharmacist Ersland murder prosecution.
The award states that Prater received the honor for “his undaunted actions in a role that often requires tough decision making.”
Holland was an OU law graduate who was killed working in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, panelists made no mention of the recent high-profile case when former state Rep. Randy Terrill was found guilty of bribery after he was accused of offering a job to former Sen. Debbe Leftwich so she would vacate her senatorial post job to make room for a Terrill ally to fill the position.
Leftwich’s trial is due to begin Dec. 9.
Terrill was sentenced to a year in the county jail and a $5,000 fine.
The trial judge has declined the request for a delay in Leftwich’s trial because of Terrill’s recent conviction, although the judge postponed Terrill’s formal sentencing until after the Leftwich trial.
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