Murder, Courts, and the Press: Issues in Free Press/Fair Trial
by Peter E. Kane
Southern Illinois University Press, 1992
eISBN: 978-0-8093-8325-2 | Cloth: 978-0-8093-1780-6
Library of Congress Classification KF9223.5.K36 1992
Dewey Decimal Classification 345.73056


When murder is the crime, the clash in the courts is likely to be between two constitutionally enshrined rights—freedom of speech and the right to a fair trial.

Peter E. Kane shows what happened in seven famous court cases when First Amendment rights (concerning freedom of speech) conflicted with Sixth Amendment rights (concerning fair trial). He reports the circumstances of each crime, the court proceedings, and the conduct of the press in the trials of Sam Sheppard, Charles Manson and his followers, John Paul Stevenson, Claus von Bülow, and Arthur Shawcross and the cases involving the Kellie family and the Wayne Clapp murders. Kane’s narrative and analytical approach illuminates legal principles and shows the roles of actual human beings underlying the abstractions of court opinions.

In this revised and expanded edition, Kane considers two new topics stemming from recent court cases: cameras in the courtroom and a code of ethics for crime reporting. Kane explores the issue of cameras through the famous Claus von Bülow retrial, which featured live television broadcasts; regarding a journalistic code, Kane examines the massive pretrial reporting of the serial murders of Arthur Shawcross. Kane notes that sensational crime stories serve the interests of many people: the public wants to read them; journalists want to write them because they can make a reporter’s fortune and reputation; and editors and publishers want to sell papers. The sensational crime story serves everyone’s purpose except that of the accused.

In addition to exploring journalistic ethics and the proper procedures for trial judges in guaranteeing a fair trial, these cases also provide an introduction to the operation of the courts in criminal justice. "The trial court is the arena in which the conflicts between a free press and a fair trial are played out," Kane writes. "This play is described here as are the subsequent evaluations of that play by the appellate courts. Thus the legal process is considered from its beginning with the original crime to the final resolution of the case in the United States Supreme Court."

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