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Published: Tuesday, 1/26/2010

Judge refuses to change order banning media from Henry County trial coverage

NAPOLEON - Henry County Common Pleas Judge Keith P. Muehlfeld said Tuesday that he will not rescind an order barring the media from reporting on a jury trial in his courtroom.

Judge Muehlfeld issued the unusual gag order in the case of Jayme Schwenkmeyer, 24, and David E. Knepley, 50, who each are charged with involuntary manslaughter and endangering children in connection with the Aug. 15, 2007 death of Ms. Schwenkmeyer's 13-month-old daughter, Kamryn Gerken. The toddler died from an overdose of drugs, including oxycodone.

Ms. Schwenkmeyer is scheduled to go on trial Feb. 1, while Mr. Knepley's trial is to follow Feb. 8.

At the request of Mr. Knepley's attorney, Clayton Crates of Defiance, the judge issued an order prohibiting the media from reporting on the first trial until the court can seat a jury for the second one. The judge reiterated his position that such an order was necessary at a hearing Tuesday afternoon.

"I found there was a substantial probability that these defendants' rights to a fair trial would be unfairly prejudiced by publicity that this court's orders were designed to prevent and that there were no reasonbable alternatives," the judge said.

Fritz Byers, an attorney for The Blade who objected to the order, maintained that it was unconstitutional.

"The judge's ruling and the reasoning behind it violate settled principles of constitutional law," Mr. Byers said. "We intend to ask the Supreme Court of Ohio to review the order."

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