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YOUNGSTOWN Ruling on newspaper's request is expected



Published: Fri, February 8, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The girl was a witness in a probable cause hearing for a teen charged with involuntary manslaughter.

By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A Mahoning County juvenile court judge is expected to rule Monday on The Vindicator's request to publish the name of a 17-year-old witness in a probable cause hearing.

Judge Theresa Dellick said she wants to review other court decisions before she rules on the request to print the name of the girl, who has testified in a hearing for Janell Thomas, 18, of 147 N. Garland Ave.

Thomas is accused of killing her 11-month-old son, Leroy Huff Jr., who died Oct. 11 in Forum Health Tod Children's Hospital of blunt force trauma.

The Trumbull County Coroner's Office ruled the death a homicide.

"For me to rush to a conclusion is not justice and is not ruling properly," Judge Dellick said Thursday afternoon during a hearing conducted at The Vindicator's request.

She also stressed that The Vindicator's First Amendment rights to publish the name must be balanced with the rights of the girl.

Paper's position: The Vindicator had filed legal papers saying that the judge's order prohibiting use of the girl's name was an unconstitutional prior restraint of the newspaper's rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Atty. David Marburger, who represents The Vindicator, said the public should know the name of the witness so people can determine if the girl's testimony is credible.

"We measure the quality of that evidence by who is giving the evidence," he said.

Judge Dellick presided over a hearing last month to determine if probable cause exists to proceed with a charge of involuntary manslaughter against Thomas. If she rules that probable cause exists, she will then have a hearing to determine if the case should be moved to county common pleas court, where Thomas would be tried as an adult.

On Jan. 25, Dellick ruled in favor of a Vindicator request to allow the press to cover the probable cause hearing. However, she also ruled that the press could not publish the juvenile witness's name.

The girl, who was staying at Thomas' North Garland Avenue home, testified Jan. 29 that Huff had been playful early in the day that he was taken to the hospital. She also said she did not see anyone abuse the baby that day.

Attorney's argument: Atty. Maridee Costanzo, who serves as the girl's guardian for the hearing, argued that the girl's name was not needed in The Vindicator's coverage of the hearing. She also stressed that Judge Dellick needs to consider the girl's physical and mental health when making her decision.

"This kid needs our protection, end of story," she said.

Atty. Ronald Yarwood, who represents the girl in unrelated cases, added that if the girl's name is released and she is interviewed by the press, she may unknowingly make statements that could harm her. Yarwood said he wasn't sure if the girl was old enough to understand that she shouldn't make public statements that break attorney-client privilege.

A decision in the probable cause hearing is pending.

hill@vindy.com




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