Chattanooga Times Free Press asks for gag order to be lifted on Jesse Mathews trial

Chattanooga Times Free Press asks for gag order to be lifted on Jesse Mathews trial

August 21st, 2012 by Todd South in News

Judge Barry Steelman is seen in this file photo.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Document: Transcript from Aug. 15 hearing in Judge Barry Steelman's court

Transcript from Aug. 15 hearing in Judge Barry Steelman's court

POLL: Should Jesse Mathews be allowed to speak to the Times Free Press?

A Chattanooga Times Free Press attorney has asked a local judge to lift or alter his recent order that bars anyone, including the defendant, to talk to the media about a pending death penalty trial in the death of a Chattanooga police officer.

Anthony "Bud" Jackson filed the motion with Judge Barry Steelman on Monday, asking that a hearing be scheduled for arguments against the gag order. The order has "hampered" the newspaper's "ability to investigate and report on various matters of public concern," Jackson wrote.

He also asserted in his motion that the gag order violates freedom of speech and the press.

Times Free Press metro columnist David Cook received approval to interview Hamilton County Jail inmate Jesse Mathews from the defendant and had a scheduled appointment for Aug. 17.

Mathews faces trial on Jan. 22, 2013, on charges that he shot and killed Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin on April 2, 2011, during a botched robbery of the U.S. Money Shops on Brainerd Road.

In an expedited hearing two days before the scheduled meeting between Cook and Mathews, prosecutor Neal Pinkston asked Steelman to prevent Mathews from speaking to the public. Pinkston cited the need to maintain a fair trial and avoid tainting potential jurors.

Steelman granted the gag order during the Aug. 15 hearing, in which Mathews and his attorney, Lee Davis, Pinkston and District Attorney General Bill Cox were present.

Davis objected on his client's behalf to the gag order.

At one point in the hearing, Mathews conveyed his thoughts on potential bias through his attorney to the judge, according to court documents.

"In all of the coverage of the case from the arrest to each and every time we come into court, there has been media coverage, including camera coverage, that he has no control over, that he is portrayed in a negative light, in handcuffs and jail attire, and he feels he has no choice or say-so in how that is portrayed, and that he doesn't see how there could be any prejudice to a statement he would choose to make or not make with a single reporter," Davis told Steelman during the hearing.

Mathews' next regularly scheduled hearing before his January trial is scheduled for Aug. 30.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347.