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Reporter Held in Contempt over Interview with Murder Defendant

December 7, 1990

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) _ A judge Thursday ordered a newspaper reporter jailed because she refused to reveal all that she and a murder defendant discussed during interviews.

Prosecutors want to enter as trial evidence articles written last month by Libby Averyt about Jermarr Arnold, 32. But the reporter and her newspaper - the Corpus Christi Caller-Times - maintain anything unpublished is nobody else’s business. So State District Judge Eric Brown held her in contempt.

Arnold is accused in the 1983 slaying of jewelry store clerk Christina Marie Sanchez in Corpus Christi.

The 26-year-old reporter was expected to go to jail Friday. Brown ordered her to remain behind bars until she agrees to answer questions about the interviews with Arnold.

It will be the second jailing of a Texas reporter this year.

San Antonio television reporter Brian Karem was jailed for 13 days for refusing to reveal who arranged an interview between him and a murder suspect.

Twelve times during a hearing Thursday Ms. Averyt refused to answer questions on First Amendment grounds. She specifically refused to reveal any details that were not published.

″I don’t want to go to jail,″ Ms. Averyt said after the hearing. ″But my desire to avoid jail is outweighed by my duty to stand up for what I believe in.″

″If reporters are allowed to be used as others’ resources, a consequence may be that reporters will offer the public less and less information,″ said Larry Rose, the newspaper’s executive editor.

The newspaper’s lawyer, Jorge Rangel, said he planned to appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin to keep the reporter free.

″Our position is that some of the questions call for disclosure of unpublished information,″ Rangel said Wednesday. ″We are asserting the reporter’s qualified privilege under the First Amendment.″

The articles quote Arnold as saying that he shot jewelry store clerk Christina Marie Sanchez.

Defense attorneys don’t want the articles admitted into evidence. If they are allowed, the lawyers want Ms. Averyt to testify about the content of her interviews.

Rangel says a reporter’s unpublished material is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution and similar provisions in the Texas Constitution.

Last week, Brown ordered Ms. Averyt to testify. The judge gave Rangel until Wednesday to seek a ruling from the 13th Court of Appeals on the case. When the Corpus Christi appeals court refused to hear the case, Rangel took it to the Criminal Appeals Court.

Rangel wanted the appeals courts to direct Brown to reverse his order requiring Ms. Averyt to discuss the unpublished information.

Under order from Brown last week, prosecution and defense attorneys submitted a list of potential questions they may ask Ms. Averyt.

Defense attorneys Carl Lewis and Constance Luedicke said last week they wanted to be able freely to cross-examine Ms. Averyt about information Arnold may have divulged that was not included in the articles.

District Attorney Grant Jones said last week that the prosecution wants to enter the published articles into evidence because they contain information that Arnold did not reveal to law enforcement officers.

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