Attorneys push for silence calls attention to Kane murder trial

Jeff Hodson

Not long ago, the press was criticized for its excessive coverage of the David and Sharon Schoo case.

Journalists focused on the sensational "Home Alone" story, the critics said, while ignoring more heinous crimes of child abuse - cases where children were actually killed or raped or maimed. Not just left home alone with a week's worth of frozen TV dinners.

Now comes a truly tragic tale of child abuse involving a 4-year-old girl. Her mother's live-in boyfriend is charged with beating the girl to death.

And guess what?

Defense attorneys want to bar the press from pre-trial hearings and put a gag on prosecutors.

Sometimes you just can't win.

The case is about Kevin Willing, 23, of Aurora, a department store security officer and an auxiliary officer with the Batavia Police Department who is charged with the Feb. 10 murder of little Samantha Jo Haight. Samantha died from internal injuries, a fractured skull and swelling of the brain.

Willing told police he disciplined the child after she wet the bed and threw a tantrum, according to news accounts. He admitted to punching the girl in the stomach, slapping her in the face and punching her on the chin and the back. The mother was not home.

Since State's Attorney David Akemann has pledged to show no mercy to child abusers, the state is seeking the death penalty.

Akemann will prosecute the case himself. He also helped prosecute the Schoo case, but this is the first time he will be lead counsel since taking office in December.

That should be interesting because one of the defense attorneys he'll be facing is his predecessor, former state's attorney Gary Johnson. Johnson, who left office to go into private practice, is defending Willing along with attorney David Camic.

The defense attorneys had no comment.

But according to the motion they will argue before Judge James Doyle, they are concerned about the accuracy of news accounts about this crime. The stories have contained incorrect information about Willing that could prejudice jurors and jeopardize his right to a fair trial, they will claim.

But if the stories are wrong, why don't attorneys rebut them on the record? That way, the so-called errors won't be repeated. Or at least they will be balance with mitigating comments in future stories. Instead, they want silence.

To his credit, Doyle correctly told the parties to notify the media before the motion is argued July 16.

Similar arguments about the press were raised by defense attorneys in the Schoo case.

The claims didn't work then and they shouldn't now. The public has a right to know. It's as simple as that.

And as Judge Barry Puklin noted in the Schoo case, no matter how much press there is, unbiased jurors can always be found.

The irony is that had defense attorneys not sought the gag order, they might not have received much press anyway. Most reporters don't attend dull, pre-trial hearings. Now their interest is piqued.

You can bet they will be there.