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Prosecutors try to shut down defendant’s Web site

Montgomery County prosecutors are trying to shut down the Web site of a defendant in a car theft case, concerned that recordings and links to social networking sites could influence the potential jury pool.

Attorneys for the lone survivor of a March car crash at Chevy Chase Circle say it’s a free speech issue. Their client is seeking a platform from which to respond to information police posted on the department’s official Web site, according to attorney Donald Huskey.

The site, www.justiceforreeco.
, was created on behalf of Reeco Richardson, who was charged with car theft after the high-speed chase and fiery crash that killed three teenagers. Richardson has posted a video labeled as an on-board police camera recording and the audio recording of an unnamed woman who identifies herself as an eyewitness. There are links to a Facebook group and Twitter account.

In a motion filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court last week, Assistant State’s Attorney Stephen Chaikin asked a judge to order the site closed because it contains information “highly likely to taint the jury pool and confuse potential jurors.”

American University law professor Ira Robbins said the question for a judge is whether a dozen objective people could be found to serve on a jury. In a large jurisdiction like Montgomery County, Robbins said he has no doubt that would be possible.

“I live in the area, I’m a criminal law professor and I don’t even know about this case,” he said. “It sounds like harassment on the part of the prosecutor’s office. . . . It’s not as if the defendant is lying or presenting false information here.”

Montgomery State’s Attorney John McCarthy said the motion is not meant to infringe on anybody’s right to free speech. “We’re trying to strike a balance between protecting the rights to a fair trial and safeguarding free expression,” he said in an interview.

Richardson was a passenger in a Toyota Echo that had been reported stolen, police said. A chase ensued after the car was spotted by a patrol officer near Connecticut Avenue and East-West Highway. The Toyota crashed into a tree and burst into flames at the circle.

Separate from the criminal case, Richardson has filed a lawsuit seeking more than $10 million in damages. He alleges that a Montgomery police officer rammed the vehicle and caused the accident. Montgomery police have said that there is no evidence that any of their cars came in contact with the Toyota.

Ann covers legal affairs in the District and Maryland for the Washington Post. Ann previously covered state government and politics in California, New Hampshire and Maryland. She joined the Post in 2005.



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