A judge agreed to close the preliminary hearing for the 14-year-old accused of murdering his father and younger brother, after his public defender argued that sensitive information disclosed at the hearing could prejudice Eldon Gale Samuel III’s right to a fair trial and affect his chances for rehabilitation.
“The court never lightly excludes the public,” said Magistrate Judge Clark A. Peterson, when announcing his decision this afternoon.
Peterson said he considered the rights of “a very unique defendant” against the need to preserve public access to the courts.
However, Peterson said he wasn’t sealing Samuel’s court record or future hearings. The Kootenai County public defender’s office initially asked the judge to seal the entire court record and proceedings.
No date has been set for Samuel’s preliminary hearing, at which time the judge decides whether there’s enough evidence against the accused to proceed to trial.
Samuel is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the March 24 deaths of his father, Eldon Samuel Jr., 46, and his brother, Jonathan Samuel, 13, inside an emergency housing unit owned by St. Vincent de Paul North Idaho.
The elder Samuel was shot once in the stomach and three times in the head with a .45-caliber pistol, according to a Coeur d’Alene Police Department report. Jonathan Samuel was shot with a shotgun, stabbed with a knife and hacked with a machete, the report stated.
“Eldon is a 14-year-old boy. He’s been accused of patricide and fratricide,” said Jay Logsdon, a public defender. If the accusations are true, “he’s clearly got some psychological issues.”
Airing the details of his mental health and family’s dysfunction could affect Samuel’s future ability to move on with his life, Logsdon said.
The prosecutor’s office argued against closing the hearing, noting that Samuel has been charged as an adult. Prosecutors didn’t object to redacting or sealing certain court records to protect Samuel’s privacy, but said it should be done in the least restrictive way possible.
“The public does have a right of access to a trial, to a preliminary hearing,” said Arthur Verharen, deputy prosecuting attorney.
An attorney for local television station KHQ also argued for keeping the preliminary hearing open. KHQ is owned by Cowles Companies, which also owns The Spokesman-Review.
Jason Gray, KHQ’s attorney, said the station will review Peterson’s written decision before deciding whether to file an appeal.