A judge in Kootenai County agreed to close the preliminary hearing for a 14-year-old accused of killing 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,” 1st District Magistrate Judge Clark A. Peterson said when announcing his decision Tuesday.
Peterson said he considered the rights of “a very unique defendant” against the need to preserve public access to the courts. Even though Samuel is being tried as an adult, he’s still a juvenile, and hearings for juveniles don’t share the same legal expectation for openness as hearings for adults, the judge said.
However, Peterson said he wasn’t sealing the court record or future hearings in the Samuel case. The 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 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 a Coeur d’Alene 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 said.
Samuel called police to report the shootings, and when officers arrived they found him at the front door, his pants and arms stained with blood, according to the police report.
“Eldon is a 14-year-old boy. He’s been accused of patricide and fratricide,” said Jay Logsdon, a Kootenai County 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.
Because the events were “a family tragedy,” and not random violence against strangers, Logsdon said the public has less of a vested interest in knowing the details.
The Kootenai County prosecutor’s office argued against closing the hearing, noting that Samuel has been charged as an adult because of the seriousness of the alleged crimes. 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.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that public access to courtrooms is not inconsistent with a defendant’s right to a fair trial, said Jason Gray, KHQ’s attorney. Neutral observers help assure fair court proceedings and public confidence in the judicial system, he said.
KHQ is owned by Cowles Co., which publishes The Spokesman-Review.
Gray said the station will review Peterson’s written decision before deciding whether to pursue an appeal.