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Judge Changes Witness Secrecy Order

April 24, 1986

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A judge has modified an order which banned news organizations from identifying rape victims who testify at the preliminary hearing for ″Night Stalker″ defendant Richard Ramirez.

Municipal Judge James F. Nelson said Wednesday such victims may be identified by name, but only if the witness does not object on religious grounds.

One woman had testified that Ramirez raped and beat her and cited religious convictions in asking that her name be withheld.

″I do know that members of certain religious convictions, if they disclose in public the fact that they have been defiled or ostracized, are unable to remarry or participate in events of society,″ Nelson said. ″Any possibility of that happening is grounds for protecting the name of that individual.″

Nelson had earlier ordered news organizations not to publish or broadcast the names or identifying characteristics of rape victims testifying against Ramirez, who is charged with 14 murders and multiple sexual assaults.

But attorneys for The Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and KNBC-TV argued that Nelson was dictating what they could report, and setting a dangerous precedent by giving witnesses the option of having their names withheld.

″If a person is on a witness stand and no one knows who he is, he may not tell the truth,″ said Jeff Klein, representing the Times. ″If the name is not known, the neighbors, the public, the press cannot (dispute) what is known. That is what’s of value.″

Noel Greenwood, assistant managing editor of the Times, and Sheena Paterson, associate editor of the Herald Examiner, said their newspapers do not usually publish the names of sexual assault victims unless there are unusual circumstances.

The prosecutor in the case, Deputy District Attorney Philip Halpin, said most of the rape victims asked that their names not be disclosed, especially the one who cited religious convictions.

″She indicated her preference would be suicide rather than be portrayed as a rape victim,″ Halpin said. ″She testified. I hate to think at some point she would carry it out.″

Although Nelson agreed with Halpin that rape victims should not be named, he agreed to modify his order except in the case of the one woman.

″It was a victory for the rights of the public,″ Klein said. ″The government should not be telling newspapers what they can and cannot say. But the newspaper should still respect the rights of individuals.″

Ramirez, 26, a drifter from El Paso, Texas, is charged in Los Angeles County with 14 murders, five attempted murders, seven rapes, five acts of oral copulation, seven of sodomy, three lewd acts on children, two kidnappings, 19 burglaries and six robberies.

His preliminary hearing, which resumes April 28, is being held to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant trial.

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