A Prince George's County judge has decided to prohibit spectators and is considering barring the press from witnessing jury selection in a high-security drug-related murder trial due to begin on Monday.
Circuit Court Judge Audrey E. Melbourne said yesterday she has decided to bar spectators from jury selection for security reasons and because of expected overcrowding in the court room. She said she will make a final determination on limiting press access Monday.
Yesterday, officials in the Sheriff's Department, which provides security in the courthouse, told reporters they will be barred from the jury selection on Melbourne's orders.
Last week Melbourne closed a pretrial hearing in the murder case against Robert Willie Young under the guidelines of a recent Supreme Court decision. That decision in the New York case of Gannett vs. Depasquale allows a judge to close such hearings -- although not the actual trials -- at the request of the defense attorneys.
The Gannett decision does not mention jury selection, but Melbourne said yesterday that "jury selection was in any event a pretrial affair. I'm just going to do it [close the selection process]."
According to officials at the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, there have been six instances since the Gannett decision in which judges closed jury selection.
In five of those, newspapers challenged the decisions, and as a result, three jury selections were successfully closed but in one, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled in September 1979 that a judge had acted improperly.
Melbourne's decision to close jury selection in the Young case would be the first in Maryland, according to committee officials.
Court officials said security precautions in the Young case are the most extensive ever in a country trial and will include rooftop marksmen as well as armed officials throughout the courthouse on Upper Marlboro's Main Street.
Sheriff James V. Aluisi said security measures exceeded those used in the county's two most celebrated murder trials of the last decade -- last year's controversial trial of Terrence Johnson, who slew two county police officers, and the 1973 trial of Arthur Bremmer for the shooting of Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace.
Young, 39, allegedly has been linked to an international drug smuggling ring, according to prosecution officials. He has been charged with murdering Greta Terry Sorrell, the wife of a man whom the prosecution describes as a drug ring courier.
Sorrell was shot to death in her Capital Heights apartment in January 1977. Her husband, Joseph Sorrell, was also shot but lived to testify against Linwood Gray when Gray was on trial last year for allegedly operating a $30 million international heroin ring in Washington. Gray was acquitted of the drug charges.
Joseph Sorrell testified that he and his wife had been hired by Gray to be international heroin couriers.
Sorrell is expected to testify in Young's trial. The names of other witnesses subpoened for the trial and other information relating to the case have been sealed on Melbourne's orders.