TOPEKA — The Topeka Capital-Journal has been ordered to identify a person who posted a comment on its website about a story on a murder trial for which that commenter was serving as a juror.
Shawnee County District Judge Steven Ebberts last week denied a request by the paper to quash a district attorney’s subpoena seeking the name, address and Internet Protocol address of a poster who goes by the pseudonym “BePrepared.”
That person is believed to have been a juror in the first-degree murder trial of Anceo D. Stovall, 27, who was being tried on 11 charges that included the shooting death of Natalie Gibson and the wounding of her partner, Lori Allison, on July 21, 2011, during a robbery.
The Capital-Journal reported that court records indicate BePrepared accessed a news story posted July 19 while the person and other jurors were deliberating Stovall’s fate two days later.
After a four-week trial and three days of deliberations, the jury convicted Stovall on July 24 of aggravated robbery, found him not guilty of the burglary of a Jeep, and was unable to reach verdicts on nine other charges, including murder.
District Attorney Chad Taylor said Stovall would be tried again on those other charges.
Stovall’s attorney, Jonathan Phelps, said BePrepared posted at 1:45 p.m. July 21: “Trust me that’s all they got in their little world, as you know, I have been there. Remember the pukes names they will do it for ever.” Phelps filed a motion seeking a new trial, saying the online posting constitutes juror misconduct and hindered Stovall’s right to a fair trial.
At a hearing Sept. 6, a man believed to be BePrepared asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked whether he was a juror in Stovall’s trial, whether he made posts on CJOnline, and whether he posted under the name BePrepared.
While the man’s name was reported by the newspaper in coverage of the Sept. 6 hearing, the Associated Press isn’t naming him because he has not been charged with a crime. Ebberts’ decision noted that interference with the judicial process is a felony.
The judge said the poster’s identity was relevant to an investigation of criminal misconduct during the trial. He wrote that the prosecutor’s office has claimed that without the information “a miscarriage of justice” would result.
He also agreed that the prosecutor’s office couldn’t reasonably obtain the poster’s identity through any means other than CJOnline.
Mike Merriam, the newspaper’s attorney, said the Capital-Journal would not appeal Ebberts’ decision.
“This was not unexpected,” he said. “It’s disappointing, but I understand his reasoning.”
A motion for a retrial was set for Thursday afternoon.