Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why cover Flack’s preliminary hearing? The story needs told

3/14/2014

For those who don’t spend their days amid the legal system — and that includes most of the general population — the concept of a preliminary hearing is a foreign notion. Most attorneys and judges could provide a legalese explanation of it, but in simple terms it is a mini trial. The mini trial puts the burden of proof on the prosecution — oftentimes the state or county attorney and their designees — to provide evidence and support of claims and charges filed against the defendant.

This is an important step in the judicial process, forcing law enforcement and prosecutors to show a judge, as well as the defendant, what evidence it has to support an arrest. If enough evidence isn’t present to link the defendant to a crime, then the judge can dismiss the charges. Though most cases make it through the preliminary hearing process toward arraignment, some don’t. If the prosecution doesn’t do an adequate job connecting the dots of how the defendant is connected to the alleged crime, then the case doesn’t move forward. Because of the evidentiary nature of a preliminary hearing, the mini trial tells just one side of the story. Since this has the potential to be one-sided, why then would the media — including The Herald — cover a preliminary hearing in such detail — particularly, as some allege, if it could prompt a change of venue for the coming trial?

For those who don’t spend their days amid the legal system — and that includes most of the general population — the concept of a preliminary hearing is a foreign notion. Most attorneys and judges could provide a legalese explanation of it, but in simple terms it is a mini trial. The mini trial puts the burden of proof on the prosecution — oftentimes the state or county attorney and their designees — to provide evidence and support of claims and charges filed against the defendant.

This is an important step in the judicial process, forcing law enforcement and prosecutors to show a judge, as well as the defendant, what evidence it has to support an arrest. If enough evidence isn’t present to link the defendant to a crime, then the judge can dismiss the charges. Though most cases make it through the preliminary hearing process toward arraignment, some don’t. If the prosecution doesn’t do an adequate job connecting the dots of how the defendant is connected to the alleged crime, then the case doesn’t move forward. Because of the evidentiary nature of a preliminary hearing, the mini trial tells just one side of the story. Since this has the potential to be one-sided, why then would the media — including The Herald — cover a preliminary hearing in such detail — particularly, as some allege, if it could prompt a change of venue for the coming trial?

In the quadruple homicide case this week — which seeks justice in the deaths of Andrew Stout, 30, Steven White, 31, Kaylie Bailey, 21 and Bailey’s 18-month old daughter Lana Bailey — District Judge Thomas H. Sachse dismissed an attempted rape charge against Kyle T. Flack, 28, Ottawa, during Flack’s preliminary hearing for the spring 2013 crimes in rural Ottawa. The attempted rape charge was dismissed because, though the body of one of the victims was found partially unclothed as well as being bound and gagged, the defendant’s semen-stained towel in another room of the house wasn’t sufficient evidence to show an attempted rape occurred. The other charges — one count of capital murder, two counts of first degree murder and one count of criminal possession of a firearm — remained intact.

We think it is important for The Herald to cover the preliminary hearing and continue the reporting on this heinous situation, so we can provide the needed context for the public to understand the scope of the crime, its impact and what comes next. Many news outlets that don’t regularly cover this community have more difficulty connecting the dots and, frankly, don’t ask some of the tough questions ... or, in some cases, even the right questions. The public clearly has an interest in the crime and its aftermath, and sought information on it from wherever they could get it. Unfortunately, some of the other media outlets’ reporting was wrong and others demonstrated poor taste. As the “pool photographer” in the Flack case, our staff shot the photos in the courtroom and distributed those free of charge to other media outlets. Some of those photos contained graphic images we wouldn’t publish because they go against our community standards. Others, however, such as some Kansas City TV stations, chose to broadcast crime scene images, incuding one of the 18-month old infant, Lana Bailey, who was found enclosed in a suitcase that was found abandoned in a creek on the Osage-Franklin county line.

While some members of the media might enjoy the shock value they can bring to readers, we prefer the balanced, accurate and thorough approach because our readers don’t just want to know what happened — they want to know how it impacts them and their community. We’ll be there for Flack’s arraignment 9 a.m. April 22 to report his plea — guilty, not guilty or no contest — and to continue to explore how these horrendous killings could have happened here and how to prevent such crimes from happening again.

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher

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