DENVER » A Colorado judge has ordered New York-based Fox News reporter Jana Winter to attend a hearing today as part of theater shooting suspect James Holmes’ attempt to identify her confidential sources.
The attorneys plan to re-question a police investigator about whether he told anyone about the contents of a notebook Holmes mailed to a University of Colorado, Denver psychiatrist before the July 20 attack.
Holmes, who had been a student at the university, is charged with fatally shooting 12 people and injuring 70 in a packed Aurora theater. The judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Winter wrote a story in July citing unnamed law enforcement officials as saying the notebook contained drawings depicting violence.
Holmes’ lawyers want to know the names of the law enforcement officials who spoke to Winter. The defense argues the leak violated a gag order and could weaken the credibility of those officials if they are called to testify in a trial.
Winter argues she should not have to identify her sources under Colorado and New York shield laws that protect reporters’ sources under some circumstances.
Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, which advocates for free speech and a free press, said Winter’s reporting served the public interest.
“Jana Winter’s reporting was important because it shed light on whether a public university had overlooked clear signals that the public was in danger. What could be of greater public interest than that?” he said.
“We want reporters to provide us that information because we know that public institutions will not voluntarily reveal that they are guilty of a lapse. This was a core function of a reporter under the First Amendment, reporting on people in power and telling the public exactly what they need to know,” Paulson said.
If the judge orders Winter to reveal her sources and she refuses, she could be jailed.
Winter’s attorney, Dori Ann Hanswirth, said Colorado law requires the Colorado Office of the Public Defender, which is representing Holmes, to pay Winter’s travel expenses. She said the total for Winter’s two trips to date is $1,878.
The public defender’s office refused to disclose the costs, citing the gag order and attorney-client privilege.
The judge has said Winter likely will have to make a third trip to Colorado before the question is resolved.
Taxpayers likely incurred additional expenses for attorneys in New York who argued on Holmes’ behalf against Winter’s requests for a judge there to quash the Colorado subpoena. The public defender’s office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
On the same day that Winter’s story appeared on FoxNews.com, NBC News reported that the notebook contained “writings about killing people,” citing a senior law enforcement official whom it did not name. It’s unclear whether Holmes’ attorneys sought the network’s sources. An NBC News spokeswoman did not immediately return a call.