CBS producer who refused to hand over dragging death transcripts free on bail
November 5, 1999
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A CBS producer who has refused to turn over transcripts of a videotaped interview with a defendant in the Texas dragging death case is free this weekend after posting a $2,000 bond, said a CBS spokeswoman.
The transcripts are of an interview CBS conducted with Shawn Allen Berry, the third of three defendants to be tried in the death of James Byrd Jr., who was dragged to his death in Jasper, Texas, on June 7, 1998.
CBS producer Mary Mapes, who lives in Texas and produced the interview with Berry, was ordered to hand over the videotapes Tuesday. Mapes said she did not have the tapes, and a Texas judge then issued a subpeona for CBS in New York to hand over the tapes. The judge also instructed Mapes to present herself at the prison on Friday, where, if she did not hand over the tapes, she was to be jailed.
CBS spokeswoman Paulette Song said the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decided Friday that it needed to review transcripts from the original contempt-of-court case and ordered that Mapes be allowed to post bond at the Jasper County Jail and report to the court Monday morning.
In Manhattan, CBS went to court Friday to fight the subpoena to turn over the tapes to Texas prosecutors.
With news anchor Dan Rather as an observer in the courtroom, New York State Supreme Court Judge Brenda Soloff listened to CBS' attorney Floyd Abrams and New York County Assistant District Attorney Nina Keller, who was arguing for the Texas court's prosecution.
Abrams argued that New York law should apply since the interview was conducted by a New York media company.
"New York law says that a journalist who conducts an interview, even on a non-confidential basis, doesn't have to turn over outtakes, notes and the like except in very special circumstances," said Abrams.
Keller said that, under Texas law, video outtakes and reporter's notes from an interview conducted in Texas must be released if subpoenaed. She also said there was no expectation of confidentiality about the interview.
Rather, who appeared voluntarily, said, "It's the public's right, not the press, the public's right to have a free and independent press, not a press that can be manipulated or ordered or forced to become a tool of police, prosecutors or for that matter defense attorneys."
The anchor said this case should not be made "into a kind of media circus that centers around a journalist's work."
Judge Soloff said she would announce a decision next Friday on the subpoena of the videotapes.
An all-white jury was seated in the Berry trial Friday; opening statements are scheduled to begin Tuesday.
CBS producer threatened with jail wins brief delay
Jasper County Courthouse
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