Cameras Now Covering Some Indiana Courts

EVANSVILLE, IN – A pilot program to test the viability of cameras in the state’s courtrooms started this week in Indiana when photojournalists from the Evansville Courier & Press and WFIE-TV were present for a court hearing Monday in the trial of John R. Dean Jr., who pleaded guilty to several charges in the 2004 death of Lloyd Green.

Monday’s courtroom coverage is the first time cameras have been in an Indiana courtroom in decades, the Courier & Press reported. The pilot program is an experiment to improve news media access to trials, and 9 judges across Indiana will take part in the program that officially began July 1.

Vanderburgh County Superior Court Judge Wayne Trockman, who presided over Monday’s hearing, was the first to have a camera-covered court session under the new guidelines. A courtroom in St. Joseph County in South Bend, IN, is scheduled to have a camera-covered hearing today.

Dean had originally been charged with murder, but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter, and will be sentenced on this and other charges on August 9.

While one video camera on a riser covered the interior of the courtroom during the hearing, cameras from two other Evansville area television stations and an Indianapolis station remained outside. The video was shared under a “pool” agreement. A radio microphone from WIKY-104.1 FM captured the audio, which was also shared. A still photographer from the Courier & Press was also inside the courtroom.

Cameras have been prohibited from court proceedings in Indiana because of the Legislature's and Supreme Court’s belief that media coverage would be disruptive to the courtroom. The Courier & Press quoted Judge Trockman after Monday’s hearing, who said, “In my opinion, it was obvious today that there were no disruptions. There were no noises or anything else that I observed that were disruptive to the proceeding.”

Kurt Schnepper, Dean’s lawyer, told the Courier & Press, “This is something I’ve welcomed for quite a while. It opens the courtroom up to the rest of the public, and lets you actually observe what goes on on a day-to-day basis.”

Under the rules of Indiana’s pilot program, one video camera, one still camera, and up to three tape recorders may be present in the courtroom, and photographers may not show the jurors or certain victims. The Indiana Supreme Court will evaluate the program at the end of 2007 and decide the fate of cameras in Indiana trial courts. In Indiana, photography has only been allowed in the state’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals until now, and only since the mid-1990s.