For the third time in two weeks, a D.C. Superior Court judge yesterday ordered a hearing closed to the press and the public in the case of a 17-year-old charged as an adult in a sexual assault case.
Judge David L. Norman ordered the courtroom cleared at the request of defense attorney James McComas before a hearing began to determine whether the defendant, Marvin L. Edwards, should be released pending his trial.
Yesterday's hearing was a continuation of a closed proceeding that began before Norman last Friday. The hearing was continued until this morning to let the judge rule on a technical legal issue presented in court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Pasano.
In a closed hearing on March 28, Superior Court Judge Shellie Bowers refused to hold Edwards without bond in a rape case, despite police testimony that Edwards had said he committed that offense and 16 other violent crimes.
In his first public statement since he closed the hearing, Judge Bowers said yesterday that he ordered Edwards held on a $3,000 bond after the government refused to bring the alleged rape victim to the courtroom to testify.
"I felt that the defendant had a right to have her come to court for questions if he wanted to," Bowers said. "I told the government's attorneys that I could either subpoena her to court or they could produce her. They said they would not produce her."
"It is my view that the defendant's right to a fair trial should prevail over the public's right to an open hearing," Judge Bowers said. "If the defendant is convicted [as a result of prejudiced jurors], he goes to jail, not the assistant U.S. attorneys."
Public defender service attorneys have requested that hearings involving Edwards be closed to the public on the ground that news accounts of the hearings and testimony could prevent their client from getting a fair trial because prospective jurors might remember details brought out in the media.
Government attorneys have argued that open sessions could be held and jurors could be found who would be unaware of news accounts of the hearings.