- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas, Feb. 12 (UPI) — A Texas appeals court Wednesday refused to allow videotaping of jury deliberations in a Houston death penalty trial.

In a 6-3 decision, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled the recording would be too much of a distraction and invade the privacy that jurors are supposed to have in their deliberations.

Houston prosecutors sought the order when a judge approved plans by PBS' Frontline to videotape deliberations in the trial of a 17-year-old capital murder defendant. It would have been the first time deliberation in a death penalty case has been videotaped.

The court's majority decision was based on a section of the Texas Code of Criminal Conduct that provides that "no person shall be permitted to be with a jury while it is deliberating."

Although jurors selected for the trial approved the plan, the court said it would be a distraction for them to be aware they were being videotaped for a future national broadcast. The justices said it might affect their judgment in reaching a verdict.

"It is the awareness of the fact of telecasting that is felt by the juror throughout the trial," the majority stated. "We are all self-conscious and uneasy when being televised. Human nature being what it is, not only will a juror's eyes be fixed on the camera, but also his mind will be preoccupied with the telecasting rather than the testimony."

The court also stated that its ruling was consistent with "the ancient and centuries-old rule" that jury deliberations should be private and confidential in order to promote "freedom of debate," "independence of thought," and "frankness and freedom of discussion and conference."

Frontline sought to videotape the entire trial of Cedric Harrison, who was charged with capital murder in a carjacking death last year.

State District Judge Ted Poe granted permission Nov. 11, 2002, for Frontline to videotape the Harrison trial, which brought an immediate objection from District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal who said the camera it would distract jurors from their duties.

The trial was to be taped for future use, not carried live as some court trials are on television news networks. Jurors were selected for the trial, but Poe put everything on hold after the appeals court decided to hear the case.

Charles "Chip" Babcock, Poe's attorney, argued that videotaped recording of the death penalty trial would be an extraordinary education for the public.

Harris County, where Houston is located, leads the nation in sending convicted killers to death row and Texas leads the nation in executions.

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