(AP) Likening press coverage of the BTK serial killings to a “bunch of mad dogs after a piece of meat,” the judge in the case said yesterday he spoke to attorneys about his displeasure with the coverage but stopped short of issuing a gag order.
However, Judge Gregory Waller’s anger over press reports since the arrest of Dennis Rader has spawned two memos from Wichita and Park City officials warning all employees they could be jailed and fined if they discuss the case.
Sedgwick County sent out a less-threatening memo asking its employees not to talk. The district attorney’s office sent an e-mail to press outlets listing family members of BTK victims who did not want to be contacted by reporters.
“I’d like to have this case tried in a court of law and not in the newspaper or television or on the radio,” Judge Waller told The Associated Press. “That is where it should be tried.”
Since Mr. Rader was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder in connection with the slayings, local and national press have reported about a purported confession, DNA evidence, and a computer floppy disk that led police to the suspect’s church in Park City.
“I think the news media has given up all professionalism,” Judge Waller said.
Both the Wichita and Park City memos, sent last week, told employees that judges, having a responsibility to provide fair trials for defendants, have the authority to direct the filing of criminal charges against government officials and employees who disclose information regarding the investigation and prosecution of the case.
The memo to Wichita employees was from City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf, who did not return messages left for comment. The one sent to Park City employees was from Park City Mayor Emil Bergquist.
Mr. Rader lived in the Wichita suburb of Park City, where he worked as the city’s compliance officer until his arrest.
Media lawyer Mike Merriam, who frequently represents Kansas newspapers and broadcasters, said it would be “kind of a stretch” to charge employees with a crime for talking to the press.
“I can’t recall any case in the last 28 years I’ve been doing this in which employees were threatened with criminal prosecution. That is why I am at a loss what the crime will be,” Mr. Merriam said. “I can understand why they wouldn’t want them to talk about it, but I am not sure how it becomes a crime if they do.”