Washington County Sheriff’s Office, corrections officials, the public defender’s office and the county prosecutor’s office have been limited in the comments they can make to the press about the state’s case against a man accused of shooting a deputy in the face on April 8.
The partial gag order, issued Thursday evening by Marietta Municipal Court Judge Janet Dyar-Welch, was requested by Washington County Public Defender Ray Smith during a preliminary hearing Wednesday.
At the hearing, Smith said the order was the only way Jason A. Berecz, 33, of 490 County Nine Road, Reno, could be guaranteed a fair trial as publicity about the incident has already influenced public opinion.
In the order, Welch says the court had been advised “of television broadcasting including questions posed to the defendant in what appears to be a holding cell at the county jail, television reports generally disclosing the defendant’s prior criminal record, statements regarding the defendant’s mental state, his alcohol and drug intoxication and a summary of the events surrounding the charges.”
The judge notes the public was entitled to know the charges, facts, time and place of arrest and Berecz’s identity.
“The other pretrial publicity cited above is more likely than not to have a material prejudicial effect on the criminal matter,” Welch writes.
She acknowledges the First Amendment rights of public access to criminal proceedings, but adds that “preserving the right to a fair trial necessarily entails some curtailment of the information that may be disseminated about a party prior to trial, particularly where trial by jury is involved.”
Welch says a blanket gag order would be too broad, but orders that the county sheriff, prosecutor, public defender and their employees and agents be “enjoined from commenting to the press concerning this case,” except for certain topics.
The order says those enjoined may still provide information about scheduling and results of litigation proceedings; grand jury indictments; bond amounts and conditions; the names of investigating officers, agencies and the length of the investigation; and other information available in court records.
The order also says no media shall be allowed into the Washington County Jail to speak to, question or take pictures or broadcast images of Berecz. terms agreed to by the prosecution and defense.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Welch instituted a temporary gag order through noon Thursday in hope that the prosecution and defense could reach a less restrictive agreement than a total gag order. On Thursday, an order was faxed to The Marietta Times announcing the order had been extended to noon Friday.
On Friday morning, the new order, with a time stamp of 6:49 p.m. Thursday, was faxed to the newspaper.
A clerk said Welch was out of town visiting a college with her daughter on Friday.
Berecz is charged with three first-degree felony counts of attempted murder and faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
He remains in the Muskingum County Jail on $750,000 bond. Berecz was transferred there to avoid any appearance of impropriety since the sheriff supervises the jail.
At the conclusion of Wednesday’s preliminary hearing, Welch found sufficient evidence to send the case to grand jury for possible indictment.
The defendant’s ex-girlfriend, Victoria Kyer, 25, testified on Wednesday that on the evening of April 8 Berecz had planned to drive to Columbus from his home on County Nine Road to buy crack cocaine. But when Kyer took his car keys, she said, Berecz became violent, attacking her and firing a gun into the ground at her feet.
She said Berecz later shot Washington County sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Parks as the officer responded to a 911 call from the residence.
Parks’ nose and right eye were injured in the shooting. He is reportedly in good condition and recovering at home.
My one and only encounter with officer Parks