Utah Newspaper Photo Sparks Tighter Court Policy

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By: Joe Strupp

A newspaper photo of evidence in last year’s high-profile Warren Jeffs trial has prompted a new statewide rule in Utah against photographing non-public evidence in courtrooms, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The newspaper reported that the Utah Judicial Council, which sets policy for statewide courts, approved a rule “prohibiting news photographers from taking courtroom pictures of exhibits or documents that are not part of the official public record.

“The rule, which becomes effective Nov. 1, stems from a photo taken March 27, 2007, by a Deseret Morning News photographer during the rape as an accomplice trial of Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints polygamous sect.”

The report adds that the Morning News “deciphered a note written by Jeffs – which was never entered into evidence – by enlarging the photograph and having it analyzed by a digital enhancement expert, a handwriting expert and a genealogist.”

An April 5, 2007, Morning News story claimed Jeffs had written: “I have not been a Prophet and am not a Prophet.”

Civil rights attorney Brian Barnard responded to the story by calling for rule changes to “ensure lawyers can handle papers in court without fear of them becoming public,” the Tribune reported.

Jeffs, 52, was convicted in September 2007 of two counts of being an accomplice to rape for conducting an arranged marriage in 2001 between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He was sentenced to consecutive terms of five-years-to-life in prison.

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