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Attorneys want teen's court hearings closed

2013-05-14T13:38:00Z 2013-05-14T15:17:01Z Attorneys want teen's court hearings closedThe Associated Press The Associated Press
May 14, 2013 1:38 pm  • 

SALT LAKE CITY — A coalition of Salt Lake City media organizations is fighting to keep court hearings open in the case of the 17-year-old charged in the death of a Utah soccer referee.

The teenager was charged last week with homicide by assault, a count issued when an attack unintentionally causes death. Prosecutors want to try him as an adult.

The referee, Ricardo Portillo, 46, died May 4 after a weeklong coma. Police said the teen punched him once in the head after Portillo called on a foul on him in a recreational league soccer game.

Defense attorneys requested the hearings be closed after a Salt Lake City TV station asked to film his initial appearance last week. They've asked the judge to not only to forbid pictures and videos, but also reporting on the hearings.

The teen's arraignment was postponed, and a closed hearing has been set for June 14 for a judge to consider the matter.

An attorney representing the media organizations said the hearings should remain open, citing precedent set in Utah and other states. In a letter to a juvenile court judge, attorney Austin Riter of the law firm Parr, Brown, Gee and Loveless said closing the hearings would go beyond the court's authority.

Whether or not the media is allowed to take pictures or video of the teenager is the judge's decision, Riter acknowledges. Riter is representing two Salt Lake City newspapers and five broadcast and radio stations.

The teenager has been in juvenile detention since April 27, when the incident occurred in a Salt Lake City suburb. His name is in court documents but is being withheld by The Associated Press and most other Utah media outlets because he is a minor.

He does not have any prior history in juvenile court, said Utah courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer.

The teenager's attorney did not return phone calls from the AP.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill chose to charge the boy with a less serious crime than murder or manslaughter because he didn't see intent to kill in the teen's actions. An adult convicted of homicide by assault faces a possible sentence of up to five years in prison, but penalties can be less for juveniles.

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