- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

HOUSTON (AP) The highest court in Texas delayed a 17-year-old's capital murder trial yesterday, hours after a judge ruled cameras could roll in the jury room as the teen's fate was decided.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered state District Judge Ted Poe to explain why he has decided to let a TV documentary videotape the jury deliberations in the case. The order, which came a few hours after Judge Poe rejected prosecutors' objections to the plan, brought the trial to a halt. Jury selection had already begun.
Judge Poe has until Monday to reply to prosecutors' concerns. Once a written response is received, the appellate judges will decide what further action to take, said Richard Wetzel, general counsel for the appeals court.
"In unusual situations, the court will become involved in an ongoing trial. This is an unusual case," Mr. Wetzel said.
Legal analysts say no film of jury deliberations in a U.S. death-penalty case has ever been made. Judge Poe has said the film would be educational and no state law prohibits it.
The case involves 17-year-old Cedric Harrison, who is charged with fatally shooting a man during a carjacking in June.
Judge Poe had issued an order Nov. 11 allowing the PBS public-affairs series "Frontline" to film the trial from start to finish. The plan called for an unobtrusive ceiling camera, with videotapes kept sealed by the court until after the verdict.
Defense attorneys said their teenage client not only agreed to let the cameras in, but he also encouraged it.
"We're doing it because this is a 17-year-old man that the state of Texas is attempting to kill," defense attorney Ricardo Rodriguez said during yesterday's hearing, in which Judge Poe declined to reconsider his Nov. 11 decision. "We're going to make sure everything is done correctly."
Prosecutor Warren Diepraam told Judge Poe that cameras in the jury room would cause "great harm" and implied it could endanger the panel later, possibly affecting its work behind closed doors.
"The process is supposed to be secret. There is also a safety issue," Mr. Diepraam said. "The defendant or his family could use the deliberation process [for retaliation] after it is published."
Prosecutors also asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to step in.
Judge Poe, a former prosecutor who was appointed to the bench in 1981, is well-known in Houston. He has forced convicts to carry signs outside the courthouse proclaiming their crimes and earlier this year said a teacher convicted of having sex with a student was "a bigger threat to our culture and our students than Osama bin Laden and his cave dwellers."
In the Harrison case, the judge said 14 of the 110 jurors who filled out jury questionnaires voiced concerns about the filming.
"If I thought [cameras in the courtroom] would affect anybody's decision, I wouldn't do it," Judge Poe told the Houston Chronicle last week. "I would never do anything in a trial to jeopardize justice. I believe we have the best system there ever has been. We shouldn't be ashamed of how it works. Let's show it off."
Mr. Harrison is accused of fatally shooting Felix Sabio II, 35, on June 2 outside Mr. Sabio's apartment. He was arrested after a chase ended with a fiery car crash.
University of Texas law professor George Dix said Judge Poe's decision is contrary to the tradition of protecting deliberations.
"Juries need to be free to do what they see as best without fearing repercussions from the community, and this seems to fly in the face of that," Mr. Dix said.
Still, if deliberations are filmed, Mr. Dix said: "I would like to get a copy for my class."


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