published Sunday, August 19th, 2012

David Cook: Justice is blind, but gagged?

Gag (verb) to restrict use of the mouth by inserting a gag; to prevent from exercising freedom of speech or expression. — Merriam-Webster Dictionary

On Friday, at 1 p.m., I was scheduled to meet with a prisoner at the Hamilton County Jail. He had placed me on his visitation list. His attorney knew. Officials at the jail emailed approval.

And today's column was supposed to relay to you — the public, the reader — portions of that meeting.

Then the Hamilton County district attorney's office found out. And the meeting got canceled.

The prisoner was — to use a legal term — gagged.

And that means you were, too.

It's called a gag order. Prompted by the DA's office and filed Wednesday by Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman, the gag order forbids the DA's office, the defendant, his attorneys and any law enforcement officer from making "any public statements to the media."

That word "public" matters. Because this, ultimately, is your case. Your district attorney. Your judge, your courtroom, your tax dollars. And, in a way, your newspaper, too.

The identity of the prisoner shouldn't matter. The American experience is designed so that legal protection and individual rights are guaranteed to all of us, regardless of the crime we're charged with. If we're spending the night in the drunk tank or arrested for truancy, tax fraud or theft, we still have the right to speak and receive visitors.

If the DA wants to take that away, we've got some major problems in this county.

Which is exactly why I wanted to meet with and interview Jesse Mathews.

Mathews, accused of shooting to death Sgt. Tim Chapin in April 2011, is a central figure in our county's story right now.

At the time of his arrest, Mathews was in possession of a weapon purchased at a gun show. His death penalty trial will cost significantly more than a noncapital trial. If he is convicted, the post-conviction appeals process will drag out for years, maybe decades, costing immeasurably more and taxing the victim's family in untold ways.

Gun violence, government budgets and prison reform are all central to our American narrative now, and all held within the microcosm of the Mathews story.

What if Mathews said to me — in the interview that wasn't — he would take life without parole immediately, instead of a death penalty trial? What if he said he would kill again as soon as he got the chance? Or confessed to other crimes, or professed a jailhouse religious conversion?

Attorneys for the Times Free Press have begun the process of opposing this gag order. As much as we may hate him, we need to hear from Mathews. We need to debate his case — robustly — because that's what democracies do. Gagging is the protocol of totalitarianism.

I would understand if the trial was next week. But it's scheduled for next January, and jury selection will happen in Nashville. It's not as if my interview would make you sympathize with Mathews. The odds are quite good he'll be found guilty.

So why would the DA's office seek a gag order?

Because the gag order forbids any comment from the DA's office — essentially, they've gagged themselves — I'm left to speculate. Is it because they don't want to taint the possibility of a fair trial?

Come on. This is the same group of people trying to kill him.

Is it because they don't want any extra spotlight on Mathews?

Hardly. By seeking the death penalty, the DA has ensured Mathews will receive more attention over the years to come than anyone may realize.

Maybe it's because they don't want anything to jeopardize their ability to seek — and receive — a death penalty sentence.

Even if it means gagging part of our democracy.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
LaughingBoy said...

If found guilty-and there's no way he will not be-this POS should be taken out behind the courthouse and done away with. That's a savings of the millions and years involved. There's nothing to appeal. He did it, you know it, I know it and he knows it. If you want to give his bleeding heart sob story on how he grew up in a bad home or whatever crap you were planning, too bad. I don't want the jury pool tainted any more than it already has been.

August 19, 2012 at 12:52 a.m.

And that excuse sets an easy path for abuse. After all, if you can find reasons here, how long till you find others for different cases?

The temptation to do so erodes justice. Maybe you think you won't compromise anything important, but that self-deception is all too easy. What do you do when you let thins go too far? How do you plan to hold yourself accountable? Somehow I doubt you will.

In any case, silencing him does nobody any good. If a prospective juror could be influenced that easily, then why would you want them not exposed? They would be a burden to the system.

August 19, 2012 at 1:38 a.m.
rolando said...

Mr Cook is not concerned with some so-called "Right of the people to know"; not in today's one-sided "news reporting, anyway. He is merely demanding publicity for yet another "Poor Society-beaten-and-downtrodden man" piece while ignoring the crime the perp committed. The Chatt Times editors, et al, do that a lot. They seem to want to pervert or corrupt our legal system even further than it is by no doubt editing and cherry-picking the perp's words [as they usually do] to somehow condemn a society based on law and not emotion.

But their "reporting" DOES sell newspapers [so to speak] and generates attention to Progressive ideas of how our legal system should change daily to meet their needs [in their minds] for one-sided, sob-sister type publicity in an attempt to improperly influence justice and our trial by jury system.

As for Cook's comments that the judge's gag order affects us all...that is simply laughable at best. No judge has that authority; at least not just yet. Cook is free to publish whatever drivel he wishes...as he frequently does...he just needs to find someone else to [mis]quote.

August 19, 2012 at 4:44 a.m.

Nothing but sensationalism and a poorly disguised attempt to sell a few papers. Don't tell the public what it "needs" to do. We're smarter than that. If there has to be a trial, the public wants it done once. The public doesn't want to spend its tax dollars on a second trial after Jesse Mathews argues the jurors were improperly influenced by this interview. Why not interview someone else in custody? It's not sensational enough. Don't hide behind the First Amendment when your real motivation is your own perceived self importance and dollars.

August 19, 2012 at 8:53 a.m.
rosebud said...

While this is a golden opportunity for David Cook to attract attention to himself, I have zero interest in anything Matthews has to say. The sooner he's executed, and I'm no longer paying for his meals and upkeep, the better.

August 19, 2012 at 8:54 a.m.
jesse said...

The time for an interview,IF you just gotta do one ,is after the trial! THEN you could get his views on "the needle" and which arm he wants it in!

August 19, 2012 at 10:05 a.m.
jesse said...

David had some really good op-ed articles during the Paul Page fiasco,since then not so much! We got a big opportunity for some hard hitting pieces on the Hamilton co.sheriff, maybe he could jump on that!

August 19, 2012 at 10:26 a.m.

Somehow I think many of the responses would change if the situation were different.

Or did any of you condemn the interview of George Zimmerman?

August 19, 2012 at 12:14 p.m.
jesse said...

Hey bulbs! While i don't condone the Zimmeran situation IT IS a totaly diff. situation! The Mathews case is a clear cut homicide committed during the commision of felony armed robbery and a cop was killed while doing his job! Zimmerman on the other hand has some room for doubt as to what actually went down!(not much, i agree BUT it's there!)

August 19, 2012 at 12:41 p.m.
jesse said...

Actually Jon ,what the tfp is doing is blowin smoke up where the sun don't shine! THEY HAVE AN AGENDA! And the aim of of the paper is to futher that agenda! Objective Journalism has been dead since the advent of T.V.! And the war in Viet Nam drove the nails into the coffin!

August 19, 2012 at 1:12 p.m.
elk11060 said...

Oh where to begin? First, Mr Mathews right to have a fair trial trumps the TFP right to know at this very moment. This is not an attempt to keep you from knowing anything, it just delays it so justice may be served. You may interview the killer after the trial is over and he has been sentenced. Hopefully to death. The only problem with that is he will not have the chance to manipulate the TFP to taint the jury pool.

Second, the TFP has a duty to this community to serve us and inform us. Sometimes that must involve a delay as, in this case, the justice system plays out in order to protect society. A topical, and sensational story cannot trump that. It's called responsable journalism to the community which you serve. Emphisis on serve.

Third; from the articles posted in the paper we have an insight as to the toxic nature of Mathews upbringing. His whole family is serving prison time for that. They have been brought to justice swiftly, as Jesse Mathews should also be brought to justice. A story on his bitter and toxic youth and upbringing would be best published the day after he recieves the sentence which his acts as the murderer of Sgt. Chapin brought him to.

In the mean time I will keep Sgt Chapins family in my prayers each night for their terrible loss. After Jesse Mathews is executed I will thank God for those who brought him to his deserved justice, and I will sleep better knowing that justice has been served to him.

August 19, 2012 at 1:29 p.m.

Jesse, you're right there is more doubt in the Zimmerman case, which is why the argument here against interviewing Matthews is so feeble. That case? Clear-cut, Zimmerman's? Not so much. Yet will we see any condemnations of that interview from any of the people expressing outrage over this editorial?

Nope, instead we get JonRoss's attempt to demonize the left.

Elk11060, if a propspective juror is manipulated by anything Matthews has to say that would make it in the papers but not into court, I would say that person should not be on the jury.

As cases go, this is not one in doubt. That's why it is a tempting example that could too easily set the stage for dismissing more uncertain cases if allowed to set the pattern of justice.

August 19, 2012 at 1:38 p.m.
jesse said...

Bulb's! The ONLY reason i can think of for David Cook to want to interview mathewes BEFORE the trial is#1 to aggrandize his self OR # 2 to contaminate the jury pool! LET justice take it's course AND THEN start diggin out the demons that live in his head! It really don't make a ratz azz to me !he shoulda never made it alive off that parking lot !IMO: Thats the diff. in policin in the 1960's and policin in 2012!(by the way i was a cop from 1964 till 1976!)

August 19, 2012 at 2:12 p.m.
Lr103 said...

Regardless of how we mere mortals want to view Mathews. He is still a person and human being who just so happens to have allegedly committed a horrific act of inhumanity against another person and human being. Mathews is no more or less a beast than anyone.

August 19, 2012 at 3:15 p.m.

Jesse, well you can worry David Cook all you want, though why any journalist wouldn't want to interview a subject like Matthews is beyond me. But the suggestion that he should have been shot right there is not letting justice take its course, but rather taking a shortcut in the process that while you may feel is vindicated, is a surer path to destroying justice than this interview would be.

In fact, that kind of reason is why the police lose the public trust.

JonRoss, and you have an agenda too. Unfortunately, you will never recognize the perniciously foul nature of your own.

But it's a good lesson of why not to listen to it, and how easily seductive your false virtues really are. The purpose that must be challenged is yours, not anybody elses's.

Thanks for being an object lesson.

Lr103, such demonization is an important part of the agenda. After all, who cares what happens to a monster?

August 19, 2012 at 3:23 p.m.
jesse said...

BULBS!! I have an opinion NOT an agenda!! Jon Ross! they are trying to turn him into something MORE than what he is! Actually ,now that he is in custody i could care less how he finishes out his life,as long as he is incarcerated! Lr. you are indeed an idjit to make a statement like that! IF you were in fact correct this planet would not be a safe place for any but the brute's that live among us! BTW BULBS: he was shot just wasn't shot good enough!!periot!

August 19, 2012 at 4:50 p.m.

JonRoss, your blood lust is your own problem.

Jesse, yes, it is obvious you want him dead. That speaks volumes. If you don't recognize the perils of that route, I only hope you don't make us live in your world where thugs are able to pat themselves on the back as they praise themselves for their own nobility.

August 19, 2012 at 6:58 p.m.
michaelb said...

David, I don't know what has happened to you but it seems they are slipping their Kool-Aid into ur coffee. We don't give a rats a** what that animal has to say.

August 20, 2012 at 9:25 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

If everything is done properly, procedure-wise, there will be nothing to appeal in this case other than "we didn't like he was found guilty". When that happens he should be given the needle within a few weeks. Simple as that. There's no slippery slope here, he did it and there's absolutely no disputing it.

August 20, 2012 at 2:02 p.m.

Michael, he's not an animal, such dehumanization demonstrates that LaughingBoy is wrong, there is a slippery slope.

Or worse yet, a cliff people are gladly jumping down.

August 20, 2012 at 3:26 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

What would be the basis for an appeal, if all procedures are correct?

August 20, 2012 at 3:43 p.m.

That's like saying why would you have a issue with getting your car repaired under warranty if you don't have a problem with the car.

When it comes to somebody's life being taken by the state, I'm going to demand that everything be checked. I'm just a little scrupulous that way.

August 20, 2012 at 4:10 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Appeals should be limited when there's no specific reason for them. "We lost" isn't specific enough.

August 20, 2012 at 4:22 p.m.

Appeals are limited, in case you didn't know. You may not be satisfied with the limits but restrict them too far, and justice is at risk, because expediency is a sure path to injustice because it is so very tempting.

You can resent the slow ans methodical process, you can be upset at the expense, but the state taking a life is not something I will consent to being short-cutted.

This city did that once. As far as I am concerned, appropriate restitution has never been paid.

August 20, 2012 at 6:05 p.m.

Nope, that isn't happening because people like you are restricted from exercising your bloodlust. It's quite obvious that you'd be happy with lynching him. Like how you keep calling him an animal.

Every time you do that, it shows exactly why shortcuts would be anathema to justice. It actually makes it more important that every protocol and procedure be followed.

I would ask where your morality is, but I now you've let it be compromised with what you believe is justified outrage but is really just vicousness.

If you had any common sense though, you'd realize how that leads to true abuse.

August 20, 2012 at 6:57 p.m.
shen said...

This city did that once. As far as I am concerned, appropriate restitution has never been paid.

Actually, this city has done it numerous times. The one time we know about couldn't be covered up because it received national and international attention.

maybe there's something here we're not suppose to know?

August 20, 2012 at 7:25 p.m.

You're right, it was probably more than once. But no way, they're really just keeping it quiet for our own good.

August 20, 2012 at 7:28 p.m.
rolando said...

There was no blanket gag order issued in the Zimmerman case; there was in Matthews. Big difference.

Zimmerman has no threat of jury prejudice -- not in his favor in any case -- as usual, the Progressives have already adjudged him guilty.

The only reason for a pre-trial interview of Matthews is to pollute the jury poll. The judge made an excellent call on this one. Wait until the trial is over -- 'course then it is worthless for the Progressive cause since their emo rhetoric will be worthless.

August 20, 2012 at 7:59 p.m.

A gag order created in response to imagined concerns, whereas Zimmerman appearing on national news? Not a problem. Any prospective juror in the Matthews case who could be swayed by anything in the paper is one you wouldn't want to get on the jury. But the Zimmerman case? Far more problematic. Yet you just say "there wasn't a gag order" as if that meant you could just stop thinking about it. Such an easy justification.

And for all the complaints about "Progressives" being prejudiced, there's "Conservatives" who have declared him not just innocent, but a hero being persecuted. As I see it, the pretense is yours.

It's just your standard rhetoric. Find a reason to condemn liberals and say whatever you do is justified.

But then I remember you embracing the birther cause, which worked out really well for you.

August 20, 2012 at 9:23 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Standard rhetoric would be the standard sob story about how Matthews had it rough growing up, etc, etc, etc and Cook's fascination with keeping the needle or chair out of mad dogs' sentencing. If every individual in a bad childhood situation turned out to use that an excuse for such behavior there would be true anarchy, riots in the street and a complete breakdown of society. The vast majority clearly due to right thing or at least don't go down to this animal's level. Everyone has a choice. My suggestion is Bulbs and Cook should petition the court to allow Matthews a day trip, they can take him out to lunch and maybe a movie then a Lookouts games. Since it's such a shame he can't get his story out to the public they ought to try and cheer him up a little.

I'm still waiting to read what kind of specifics would be used in an appeal of his upcoming conviction. There are none that should be valid if all the T's are crossed and I's dotted.

August 20, 2012 at 9:42 p.m.

And if we just decide to dismiss people as not worthy of being treated as humans but rather declare them to be animals, and use that as an excuse to abandon justice in the name of expediency, then there would be true savagery, violent retribution and a complete breakdown of society. See, I can come up with rhetoric and empty hypotheticals too. Do you really think you're being peruasive when you make that kind of misrepresentation?

You may not believe it, but I can reject your position without being foolishly naive.

And if you agree that none of the appeals would be valid if everything was done properly, then what are you worried about? Maybe you think haste is more important, but I think doing our best to not allow mistakes is more important.

See I don't want a government that is cavalier with any lives. I prefer caution over slaking a lust for vengeance in an act of indulgence. It's been recognized as flawed for centuries for good reason. You can object to that if you like, but your arguments continue to convince me of the importance of sticking with it. They're disingenuous enough to be a detriment.

August 20, 2012 at 10:12 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Bulbs read it again. He gets his trial. Unless there is some problem in procedure, with completely overwhelming evidence, there should be no grounds for appeals. I don't want his sentence to be carried out in 2032.

August 20, 2012 at 10:39 p.m.

And it seems you're suggesting that it just be assumed that there was no problem, so thus no appeal. Over and Done. That's the problem.

I'm going to quite stridently insist that if you are going to implement the death penalty, that is not acceptable, and I require that the appeal proceed, with careful and deliberate effort made to ensure that everything is satisfactory.

Especially given the number of executions that have been performed with far less than overwhelming evidence, and far less than proper procedure yet I'm sure many people involved insisted that everything was done just fine.

You may not want his sentence to be carried out twenty years from now, but I don't want the justice system to be allowed to take short-cuts when it comes to the taking of a human life. You may find this case is one you can easily justify an expeditious course, but I find this case to be an example where the temptation is important to resist as a demonstration that the system will not be compromised.

August 21, 2012 at midnight
aae1049 said...

JohnRoss,

Your writing style is familiar to me, huge fan of yours. What an awesome comment.

"happy Progressive activists like Cook always have a reason for the words they write. He may talk about puppies and banana pudding but he has a cold hard purpose. So I don't have to demonize anyone. The left does it to themselves."

August 23, 2012 at 9:03 p.m.

Cheering on a comment of hostility and offensiveness, huh?

Maybe you're just thinking of it like I do some of joneses's more amusing tirades, an example of amazing absurdity.

August 23, 2012 at 9:37 p.m.
aae1049 said...

HappywithNothing I am cheering on excellence in language. Get over yourself.

August 25, 2012 at 9:54 a.m.
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