Juvenile judge refuses to release murder case transcripts

By Mitch Mitchell
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Originally published March 20, 2014

FORT WORTH — After twice barring the media from court hearings in a murder case involving a juvenile, state district Judge Jean Boyd on Thursday denied a request to make records from that case public.

Tarrant County prosecutor Riley Shaw requested that she issue written findings of fact that she used to support the ruling.

Boyd did not comment on her decision.

Several North Texas media outlets, including the Star-Telegram, had petitioned the court to make public any records and transcripts from the case of a 16-year-old boy, identified in court only as R.J.D., who was accused of killing his 17-year-old neighbor, Nicholas Anderson.

On two separate occasions, Jan. 10 and 22, Boyd refused to allow media members in her courtroom to hear the case, which resulted in the teen being sentenced to 26 years behind bars after reaching a plea deal with Tarrant County prosecutors.

Attorneys for the accused teen did not request that either hearing be closed to the public and prosecutors objected to closing the hearings.

On Thursday, Shaw told Boyd that he did not believe she could close a hearing on her own volition without hearing evidence and without offering a reason on why the hearing should be closed.

“I disagree,” said Boyd, who is retiring in December from the position she has held since 1994.

Attorney Tom Williams, who represented four of the six media outlets in the case, said the fact that attorneys representing the murder suspect did not request closed hearings — and the state’s objection to them being closed — are indications that good cause needs to be shown.

Jim Witt, executive editor of the Star-Telegram, said the paper and its partners are considering whether to appeal Boyd’s decision to not to release the transcripts of the closed hearings.

Judge Boyd’s rulings on the murder case came a month after she sentenced then 16-year-old Ethan Couch to 10 years probation and therapy for driving drunk and causing a crash that killed four people. Boyd’s sentencing of Couch, who was described in testimony as a spoiled teen from a rich but dysfunctional family, became national news and the veteran jurist was criticized on social media and national talk shows for the probation sentence.

Concerned about Boyd’s decisions to close hearings in the murder case, attorneys representing local media outlets had filed a plea in intervention asking Boyd to give them a chance to make arguments about why any future hearings in the Couch case should remain open.

On Feb. 4, Boyd denied the request for the hearing.

In requesting that the transcripts and court records should be made public, the Star-Telegram, Dallas Morning News and KTVT-TV, KXAS-TV, KDFW Fox 4 and WFAA-TV argued that the law states that juvenile hearings for children who are 14 or older must be open to the public “unless the court, for good cause shown, determines that the public should be excluded.”