CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A state judge has indicated he will modify a gag order, allowing the release of 911 transcripts, documents and thousands of photos while permitting attorneys to discuss the shooting deaths of nine Black parishioners at a South Carolina church, a media attorney said Monday.
Attorney Jay Bender, prosecutors, defense attorneys and attorneys for the victims' families met privately for about an hour on Monday with Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson.
News organizations, including the Associated Press, challenged Nicholson's order preventing attorneys from discussing the case and blocking release of documents in the June 17 shootings at Emanuel AME Church.
The judge had earlier blocked the release of documents and prevented attorneys from discussing the case, saying he was concerned that the right to a fair trial for Dylann Roof, who is charged, could be jeopardized by pretrial publicity.
Nicholson heard attorneys argue last month about his order and said he would reconsider and allow some of the material to be released.
He said at the time he wanted to meet privately with attorneys — a meeting held this Monday — to review some of the more graphic evidence, including photographs of the crime scene, and to determine what material might be released.
The judge indicated that he would allow the release of several thousand crime scene photographs and a transcript of the 911 calls, Bender said. He added Nicholson indicated he would keep under seal a video tape of the crime scene and about 460 graphic photographs.
The attorneys reviewed a video tape of the crime scene during their meeting, Bender said.
Bender said that he expects the judge to issue an order later this week or early next week that could clear the way for the release of the documents.
The release of the material would have to come from local law enforcement agencies. Bender said that if there are objections by those agencies, the judge will hear arguments to decide the issue, instead of media groups or others having to file separate freedom of information lawsuits.
Roof faces nine counts of murder and other charges in state court in the killings of nine parishioners during a Bible study at the church. The state is seeking the death penalty.
Roof also faces dozens of federal charges including hate crimes and obstruction of the practice of religion. The federal government has not said yet whether it will seek the death penalty.
Nicholson had said last month he was concerned about the release of graphic crime-scene photographs stemming from the shooting.
"I see no benefit or reason for the news media to have access to those photographs showing people dead on the church floor," the judge said.
Attorneys for the victims' families have said the material should not be released because doing so would violate the victims' rights to privacy.
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