By: Ron Chepesiuk
Publishing the name of a juvenile murder suspect angers judge sp.
A SOUTH CAROLINA family court judge has asked a solicitor to determine if the 40,000-circulation Myrtle Beach Sun News should be prosecuted for publishing the name of a juvenile murder suspect.
“It’s my duty and responsibility to protect the confidentiality of juveniles,” Judge Mary Buchan told the court.
The Sun News angered Buchan when it identified 15-year-old Randy Davis as one of those arrested in the shooting of 51-year-old Delores Butler, his godmother.
“We decided to publish the boy’s name because of the seriousness of the case,” explained Gwen Sowler, Sun News managing editor. “It was in the public’s interest to use the boy’s name.”
Davis was angered with his godmother for being too strict with him, according to reports. The last straw for the boy apparently came when Butler, a hotel worker, left a note with orders for him.
Butler was found buried in a shallow grave Nov. 18. She had been shot in the forehead. Davis and an alleged accomplice, a 16-year-old friend, were turned over to the South Carolina Department of Justice in Columbia.
At a family court detention hearing, Buchan made two reporters, including Elaine Gaston of the Sun News, promise not to report Davis’ name. Another Sun News reporter later reported the story and used Davis’ name.
“She [Gaston] felt pressured into agreeing to Judge Buchan’s request,” explained Sowler. “Judges can be very intimidating to reporters covering the court. In fact, when given such an order, many reporters feel their only option is to either to get up and leave or to agree to what the judge demanded.”
Jay Bender, attorney for the Sun News, who is also legal counsel for the South Carolina Press Association, said, “I don’t think there is any basis for prosecuting the newspaper. Any agreement to publish a name heard in open court would be unconstitutional.”
Bender pointed out that in 1981 the South Carolina Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a law prohibiting publication of a suspect’s name.
Sowler says South Carolina law can be very confusing for judges who work in areas of the state that don’t deal with the media on a regular basis. She put Buchan in that category.
Solictor Ralph Wilson said he would determine if publishing the juvenile’s name warranted a criminal prosecution of the Sun News.
The newspaper said it hasn’t had any dealings with the solicitor since the story ran.
“We feel we aren’t going to hear any more about the case,” Sowler predicted. “The judge may have felt she had the duty and responsibility to ascertain whether the Sun News broke the law, but our lawyers assure us we have done nothing wrong.”
She said leaders have called to express support for the newspaper.