published Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Judge loosens gag order in Jesse Mathews death penalty case

Judge Barry Steelman’s ruling on the Jesse Mathews gag order
Judge Barry Steelman’s ruling on the Jesse Mathews gag order

A local Criminal Court judge has loosened his previous gag order in a death penalty case that prevented the accused from speaking to the media.

Judge Barry Steelman issued the order Friday, responding to Times Free Press attorney Anthony "Bud" Jackson's request that the judge lift a recent gag order on defendant Jesse Mathews.

Mathews, 27, awaits a January trial on charges that he killed Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin on April 2, 2011 during a Brainerd Road botched robbery.

The recent ruling allows Mathews to speak with the media through his attorneys, Lee Davis and Bryan Hoss. The previous order barred him from speaking to media in any form.

Jackson said Monday that he appreciates Steelman's actions and partial lift of the gag order but doesn't think it fully protects First Amendment rights. He said he would review options with the newspaper.

In August, Steelman ruled in an emergency hearing that Mathews could not speak to the media and that attorneys and courts personnel could not make public comments about the case.

Prosecutors Bill Cox and Neal Pinkston requested the gag order after Times Free Press columnist David Cook was granted a jailhouse interview with Mathews.

Jackson argued in an Aug. 30 hearing that the gag order prevented legitimate news gathering by "prior restraint" of free speech.

Pinkston and Cox argued that allowing Mathews to speak with the media could prejudice potential jurors. The attorneys are selecting a jury from Davidson County to avoid jurors who may have been exposed to local media coverage of Chapin's death and Mathews' court appearances.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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