DENVER — The US Supreme Court on Tuesday turned away an effort to force a Fox News reporter to reveal her confidential sources for a story about the man charged with killing 12 people in a Colorado movie theater.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place a decision by New York’s top appellate court that shielded reporter Jana Winter from being called to testify in a Colorado court. Winter lives and works in New York.
Attorneys for defendant James Holmes wanted Winter to identify the law enforcement officers who told her Holmes had sent his psychiatrist a notebook depicting violence. The lawyers said the sources violated a judge’s gag order.
The defense also argued that whoever spoke to Winter might have lied under oath when they denied being her sources, undermining their credibility as potential trial witnesses.
The judge overseeing Holmes’ case in Colorado issued a subpoena that could have forced Winter to identify her sources, but the subpoena could not be enforced without the approval of courts in New York.
Two lower New York courts agreed to enforce the subpoena, but the state’s highest court ruled that Winter is protected by New York’s reporter shield law.
That law protects reporters from having to identify their sources. Free press advocates say such protections are vital to encourage whistleblowers and others to come forward with important information without fear of retribution.
Winter has said she would not reveal her sources, even though she faced a possible jail sentence for refusing.
Neither Winter nor the Colorado Public Defender’s Office, which represents Holmes, immediately responded to messages seeking comment. Attorneys in the case routinely decline to comment, citing the gag order.
Fox News called the news a victory for free speech.
“The court made it clear that Jana Winter can never be compelled to testify in Colorado, and that all New York-based journalists and media companies can rely on New York’s strong shield law when they are covering news across the country,” the company said in a statement.
Jeff Roberts of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition also praised the move.
“It’s good that she’s protected here,” he said. “It’s hard to understand why they (the defense) needed to know her sources in this case.”
Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the 2012 attack, which also injured 70 people. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
His trial is scheduled to start in October.
Associated Press writer Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.
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