An Idaho District Court judge has unsealed the transcript of a hearing for a 14-year-old accused of killing his father and brother, saying open court proceedings are the bedrock of the American justice system.
Monday’s decision by Judge Richard Christensen will allow eventual public access to the evidence portion of the preliminary hearing for Eldon Gale Samuel III, who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Jonathan Samuel, 13, and second-degree murder in the death of Eldon Samuel Jr., 46. The shootings occurred March 24 in an emergency housing unit in Coeur d’Alene owned by St. Vincent de Paul.
Local TV station KHQ had challenged a decision by Magistrate Judge Clark Peterson to close last week’s hearing at the request of the public defenders office, which is representing Samuel.
Peterson closed the hearing because of the emotional harm Samuel could experience from information disclosed at the hearing, said Steven Olsen, a deputy attorney general, who represented Peterson.
“We had a juvenile who showed mental imbalance,” Olsen said.
However, “the public and the press should know how we treat someone like Eldon Samuel,” a teen accused of murder, said attorney Joel Hazel of Witherspoon Kelley, who represented KHQ. Samuel is being tried as an adult because of the seriousness of the allegations.
In Idaho, the public has a qualified right to attend preliminary hearings, said Christensen, the district court judge. In his decision, Peterson seemed more concerned about how the “salacious nature of the allegations” would affect Samuel, rather than balancing the public’s right to an open court against the defendant’s right to a fair trial, Christensen said.
And there wasn’t evidence justifying closing the hearing presented to the court, as required by law, Christensen said. “I think there were other remedies,” he said.
The transcript of Samuel’s preliminary hearing wasn’t available Monday because a recording of the hearing was still being transcribed.
KHQ is owned by Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.