An Illinois appeals court has ruled in favor of WGLT, the Pantagraph Newspaper, and the Illinois Press Association in a dispute with the defense counsel in the Kirk Zimmerman murder case.
Zimmerman's Attorneys had sought to keep secret hearings on some pretrial motions. They argued disclosing those would make it more difficult to find impartial jurors.
The McLean County State's Attorney's office took no position in the case.
Attorney Don Craven argued for the media outlets that there is a presumption that trial court proceedings should be public under the first amendment. There are exceptions to that, such as in matters involving a criminal investigation. Zimmerman's lawyers tried to assert those exceptions applied in the Zimmerman case.
But, Fourth District Appeals Court Judges ruled that the defense's reliance on a decision in the Jeff Pelo serial rape case in McLean County was not relevant to the Zimmerman case. In the Pelo case, Judges ruled sealing the evidence deposition was appropriate because it had not yet been presented at trial and related to the police investigation. In the Zimmerman case, the motion hearings attach to the criminal trial process itself, and not to the investigation, according to the judges.
The opinion in the media appeal also indicated that access to motions plays a significant positive role in the functioning of the criminal justice process. Sometimes, such motions expose improper police action. Moreover, the judges wrote, public access to evidentiary decision making enhances both the basic fairness of the criminal trial and the appearance of fairness so essential to public confidence in the system.
The decision does not automatically open the hearings on the disputed pretrial motions, but does allow further argument on the point in circuit court.
Kirk Zimmerman is accused of shooting his ex-wife Pam Zimmerman four times in her office on east Washington Street in November of 2014.
Kirk Zimmerman is free on bond, but under home confinement pending the trial.
(This story has been edited to correct an error in stating the position of the State's Attorney's Office.)
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