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Cameras Barred At Smith Trial Judge Agrees Coverage Might Intimidate Witnesses

A judge on Friday barred TV cameras from Susan Smith’s trial on charges she drowned her two young sons. He said small-town witnesses might be intimidated by the attention.

“There is an absolute likelihood that broadcast coverage in the courtroom would interfere with the due process of this trial and pose a risk to this case,” Circuit Judge William Howard. The trial begins July 10.

Howard had allowed live TV coverage as well as still cameras for all previous hearings. But he agreed with Smith’s attorney, David Bruck, who said broadcasting the trial in this small town would make witnesses afraid to share intimate information necessary for his client’s defense.

Bruck has indicated that his defense will be based on Smith’s mental state both before and at the time of the killings. Her boss’ son had recently broken off their affair, and as a teenager she was molested by her stepfather.

“The actors in the O.J. Simpson case were to a large extent just that, actors, Hollywood people who live in Hollywood because they wanted to be in the public eye,” Bruck said.

“But the witnesses in this case were until now, have been until now, private people who live in a small town and really asked nothing more than to be able to live their lives … in peace and quiet.”

Smith, 23, could get the death penalty if she is convicted of killing her sons, Michael, 3, and Alex, 14 months.

Howard said broadcast coverage could make witnesses uncomfortable and interfere with the court’s efforts to get at the truth.

“I also have to consider the possibility of community hostility for witnesses that might testify in this trial,” he said.

For nine days in October, Smith claimed that a black carjacker had abducted her boys. Then on Nov. 3, she confessed to strapping them into their car seats and sending her car to the bottom of a lake.

The ruling bars all cameras, still or video, and microphones from the courtroom. Reporters will still be allowed inside to cover the trial.

South Carolina court rules give trial judges wide latitude in deciding whether to allow cameras, and specifically discourage appeals.

“We’re not inclining to appeal it,” said Steven Brill, founder and chief executive of Court TV. “This is a very special case, and I think the judge decided on narrow and understandable grounds.”