By KIM CHANDLER Associated Press
DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) — Prosecutors on Monday asked a judge to block the media and public from attending pretrial hearings in the high-profile case of a man charged in the cold case killings of two teenagers.
Saying they are concerned about publicity tainting the jury pool, prosecutors asked a judge to take the unusual step of closing all pretrial proceedings and sealing all case documents from public view until a jury is seated. Defense lawyers are objecting to the request, saying they consider it unconstitutional.
Coley McCraney faces capital murder charges in the 1999 deaths of Dothan teens J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett. His arrest in March made national news as local law enforcement authorities announced in a news conference and that they arrested McCraney after using genetic genealogy techniques on crime scene DNA.
“Without judicial intervention, it appears that the prospective jury pool will be saturated with thoughts and opinions regarding the facts and nature of this case before a trial begins,” wrote David C. Emery, an attorney with the prosecution team.
Defense lawyers objected to the request. They said prosecutors are seeking to control publicity only after making “contaminating statements regarding this case and the defendant’s guilt,” including at the March news conference.
“The prosecution has actively participated in the saturation and contamination of the jury pool in this case,” defense lawyers wrote.
Defense lawyers also objected to barring the news media and public from pretrial proceedings, saying that public trials are one of the “safeguards to the due process guaranteed to every citizen.”
Circuit Judge William Filmore has set a June 27 hearing on the prosecution’s request.
Defense lawyers and relatives of McCraney maintain that he is innocent.
The bodies of the two 17-year-olds were found in the trunk of a car in 1999. The two girls had left to attend a party and never returned home.