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The Crime in Writing True Crime (Continued)

Other sources became jittery and agonized over their decisions to talk. When they did speak, they spoke only on condition of anonymity, which caused them to panic that I wouldn’t be another Vanessa Leggett and that I wouldn’t protect their identities. So, one minute I had to reassure them that I was another Vanessa and I would go to jail to protect them. The next minute I had to reassure them that I wasn’t another Vanessa, i.e., allegedly unpublished.

All of this gag order-inspired need for anonymity eventually affected my ability to tell the complete, full and truthful story in the detail I felt it needed. Despite the fact that I often had two to four sources confirming critical facts, since all of those sources were anonymous, St. Martin’s attorney wouldn’t allow me to use those rock solid facts. He understandably feared that no source would stand up in court to back me.

Thursday, August 4, 2001, the Fourteenth Court of Appeals denied the

Houston Chronicle’s request to throw out the gag order in the case against Andrea Yates. In their opinion, written by Justice Charles W. Seymore, the court referred to the crime as "an undeniably tragic episode" that resulted in a "maelstrom of media attention."

The court stated that Judge Hill "initially was not inclined to grant a gag order." Instead, she "admonished counsel for both sides that she intended to try the case in court and not in the press. However, the parties evidently did not heed the warning …"

Seymore wrote that the Houston Chronicle had been present during the gag order hearing and had asked to be heard. "Judge Hill noted, however, that the Houston Chronicle was not a party to the criminal proceedings or to the gag order, and declined to entertain its objections at that particular time, stating she would revisit with counsel after the hearing."

The Court of Appeals ultimately decided that Hill’s gag order did not infringe upon the media’s First Amendment rights of freedom of the press. Indeed, Seymore cited a Virgina case as proof: "The Court described that right, however, as only a right to sit, listen, watch and report. The press has no right to information about a trial superior to that of the general public." And, in citing a case against Warner Communications, Seymore additionally wrote, "In short, the media’s right to gather information during a criminal trial is no more than a right to attend the trial and report on their observations." 1

August 8, 2001, Andrea Yates walked into the 230th District Court for her arraignment. Her plea of not guilty by reason of insanity was quickly entered. Less quickly, prosecutors and defense attorneys carped about leaks to the press, as the defense desperately tried to slip in statements rebutting alleged prosecutorial leaks. Judge Hill silenced the attorneys, making it clear she wasn’t going to tolerate any attempts to try the case in the press. The arraignment ended and a bailiff ordered the press out of the courtroom.

Indeed, the day before, Judge Belinda Hill had issued an order instructing all "spectators and media representatives" to "immediately leave courtroom 7-7 and all cameras shall be removed as soon as possible," after the proceedings were concluded. The judge’s order also demanded that the pool video camera not record any sound–nothing the judge or attorneys said.

It further stated, "Media personnel outside the courtroom shall not create distractions and shall avoid restricting movement of persons passing through the halls and/or doors to the courtroom."

Any person who violated the order was subject to contempt and expulsion from the courtroom. And "all persons employed by a media organization" were "presumed to have notice" of the order, whether they had seen it or not. 2

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