Court denies full gag order in Richins murder case
A judge did not give prosecutors the gag order they wanted in the case of Kouri Richins, who is charged with murdering her husband, Eric. But there are still restrictions on speaking publicly.
Kouri Richins appeared in person at Third District Court Friday afternoon for a hearing on prosecutors’ request for a gag order in the multiple cases surrounding the death of her husband.
The state requested that everyone from attorneys to witnesses to law enforcement to the victim’s family be restrained from making public statements about the cases.
Judge Richard Mrazik denied that order, finding it too broad.
The judge said he wasn’t sure he had the jurisdiction to hold in contempt people not directly involved in court proceedings.
Prosecutor Patricia Cassell’s argument focused on protecting the possibility of a fair trial, as well as shielding Eric and Kouri’s children from publicity.
But defense attorney Skye Lazaro said the timing of the gag order would unfairly prevent Kouri from defending herself publicly.
She said that would harm the jury pool, instead of preserving it.
“It actually does taint the jury pool, because then the only narrative out there is what's been filed in the information, and nothing else,” Lazaro said.
When it came to protecting the Richins children, Lazaro said she saw value in some kind of shield for their sake, and for the integrity of the process.
But she argued the situation surrounding these cases won't cool down, no matter what the court does.
“I just don't think that the press’ interest in this case is going to go away,” she said.
Prosecutors have said four documentary teams and dozens of national news outlets have tried to talk to Kouri, members of Eric’s family and, in one case, followed a court clerk to a gas station.
In the end, Mrazik said the prosecution did not show that a gag order restraining speech before it happened would be constitutional.
“We have a First Amendment problem here,” the judge told prosecutors at the beginning of the hearing.
Kouri Richins is involved in multiple cases about Eric’s alleged murder, his property, his estate and the custody of their children.
Mrazik said the attorneys are still bound to state rules of professional conduct, which prevent them from making comments that would jeopardize a fair trial.
And he cautioned the attorneys, saying they may not “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly” let their witnesses or teams make statements violating those same rules of professional conduct.
But enforcement, he admitted, is loose. A violation would entail a long process with the state Office of Professional Conduct.
So for the foreseeable future, in the cases swirling around Eric Richins’ alleged murder, it will be up to the lawyers to keep their teams and witnesses in check.
But, Mrazik said, if circumstances change, the court may reconsider imposing a gag order.