SAN FRANCISCO — The judge presiding over the Cary Stayner murder trial wrongly excluded the public and media from the courtroom earlier this month, a California appeals court ruled Wednesday.
To make room for potential panelists during jury selection on July 15, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Thomas C. Hastings briefly emptied the San Jose courtroom and continued court proceedings in the absence of public witnesses.
The case was brought by The Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News. The media argued that Hastings violated the public’s right to access court proceedings.
The San Jose-based 6th District Court of Appeal agreed, and ordered transcripts of the proceeding to become available within five days.
Stayner, a former motel handyman, faces the death penalty if convicted of murdering Carole Sund, 42, her daughter, Juli, 15, of Eureka, and their Argentine friend Silvina Pelosso, 16, in February 1999 near Yosemite National Park.
Stayner, 40, already is serving a life sentence without chance of parole after pleading guilty in federal court to killing Yosemite National Park nature guide Joie Armstrong.
The highly publicized trial was moved to San Jose from Mariposa County.
Meanwhile, Hastings on Thursday is expected to hold a hearing requested by several media outlets who are challenging the judge’s decision to bar media interviews inside the courthouse and immediately outside the building. The media, including the Fresno Bee and Santa Rosa Press Democrat, contend that Hastings’ order violates reporters’ constitutionally protected rights of speech.