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NY Court of Appeals Rules Reporter Can Keep Sources Secret

In a small reprieve to the rights of journalists, New York’s State Court of Appeals has said that ordering Manhattan-based reporter Jana Winter testifies in a Colorado court on the Colorado theater shootings would undermine the freedom of the press, as she would be asked to reveal her sources.

The NY State Court of Appeals reversed two lower court rulings in the matter and held the Fox News reporter will not have to reveal the confidential sources that provided information for her story on the 2012 mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater.

Writing for the court, Judge Victoria Graffeo observed, “Safeguarding the anonymity of those who provide information in confidence is perhaps the core principle of New York’s journalistic privilege, as is evident from our colonial tradition, the constitutional text and the legislative history of the Shield Law.”

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The narrow 4-3 decision saw the issues closely contested, and Daniel Arshack, the defense attorney for the shooter Holmes said, “This is a death penalty case in which the credibility of law enforcement witnesses may determine whether a man lives or dies. To prohibit testimony which could affect that decision simply shocks the conscience.”

The Colorado Theater shooting case is about the July 2012 shooting during a midnight screening of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises,” where Holmes mowed down innocent movie goers with assault weapons killing 12 persons and injuring dozens of other people.

Holmes, 25, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He faces multiple charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder.

In the instant case, police had seized a notebook that Holmes had mailed a psychiatrist shortly before his shooting spree. The court passed a gag order on the contents of the notebook, but on the very day that the gag order was issued, Fox News ran a story online claiming the notebook was “full of details about how (Holmes) was going to kill people.”

Holmes’ defense moved to have Winter testify about her sources, who, according to her story, were two anonymous law enforcement officers.

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