OTTAWA, Ohio — The juvenile court hearing of a teenager charged in the double murder of two brothers will be open to the media, the Putnam County judge handling the case decided Thursday.
Saying that public interest and transparency outweigh any pre-trial publicity that could taint jurors in a possible trial, Judge Michael Borer denied a request from attorneys to exclude reporters and cameras at next week’s hearing for 17-year-old Michael Aaron Fay.
“There has not been any evidence presented to the court indicating there is any actual potential harm to Mr. Fay,” the judge said.
The ruling was made during a pretrial hearing in which Judge Borer listened to arguments from the teen's attorney, Shannon McAlister, and Sam Kaplan and Terry Davis, who represent radio, television, and newspaper outlets.
Ms. McAlister and court-appointed attorney William Kluge sought to prohibit media coverage of all pretrial hearings in juvenile court, including an adult certification hearing to have the case bound over to Putnam County Common Pleas Court.
The Fay youth is accused in the May 9 deaths of Blaine Romes, 14, and Blake Romes, 17, who were shot in a mobile home on North Perry Street in Ottawa.
The teen, who lived with his mother, the victims, and their mother in the home, is charged with delinquency in connection with aggravated murder and auto theft.
Fritz Byers, a Toledo attorney who challenged the motion on behalf of The Blade, WTVG-TV Channel 13, and WLIO-TV of Lima, said the judge’s decision follows the state statute.
“Ohio law has long recognized that constitutional principles and sound public policy require openness in judicial proceedings. Judge Borer’s decision is a reaffirmation of those principles for which we should all be grateful," Mr. Byers said.
Mr. Davis, who appeared at the hearing on behalf of the Lima News, Findlay Courier, WTOL-TV, Channel 11, and WUPW-TV, Channel 36, and the Putnam County Sentinel, said: “There needs to be transparency in the courts for trials, such as Mr. Fay’s trial, so that everyone can have faith in the system. It’s the only way it works. The law is exactly clear on this.”
Michelle Grothause, the mother of Blaine and Blake, was in the courtroom during the hearing. She sat next to Vicky Fay, her partner and the mother of the Fay youth.
In her arguments, Ms. McAlister said that barring the media would protect her client’s constitutional right to have a fair and impartial jury if the case would proceed to trial. She also said that further exposure of the Fay youth in the media could pose a threat to his safety if he continues to be locked up in jail.
Attorney Sam Kaplan, representing The Blade, its Toledo media partner, Channel 13, and the Lima station, said safeguards exist to ensure a fair and impartial trial, including questioning potential jurors about their knowledge of the case, sequestering jurors, or moving the case outside the county to secure an untainted jury.
He said Ms. McAlister failed to provide the judge with any evidence that shows the Fay youth would be harmed by having media coverage at the pretrial hearings.
“In absence of any evidence offered to the court, all the court is left with at this point is mere argument of counsel,” Mr. Kaplan said.
The Fay youth was brought into the courtroom with his head covered with a black ski mask, which was removed when he was seated with his attorneys.
Judge Borer had instructed the media against depictions of the teen that show his face.
Contact Mark Reiter at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6199.