A Howard County Circuit Court judge closed his courtroom to the news media and public for three hours yesterday during a pretrial hearing in the case of a 28-year-old Columbia man charged in the Jan. 11 fatal shooting and robbery of an armored car guard.
Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. also issued a gag order, prohibiting the attorneys and parties in the case from discussing what occurred during the closed hearing, and sealed the defense motion that requested the closed hearing.
After the hearing, Judge Kane denied a request by Mary R. Craig, an attorney for The Baltimore Sun, that a reporter be permitted to listen to an audio tape of the closed hearing and examine the defense motion.
Ms. Craig said that the judge's actions violated the First Amendment and the Maryland Declaration of Rights and that the issue could be appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals today.
Assistant Howard County State's Attorney Richard O'Connor had also opposed the defense motion to close the hearing.
Judge Kane said that "in balancing the people's right to know and the defendant's right to a fair trial," he took the actions to avoid violating the defendant's right to a fair trial.
The defendant, Tyrone M. Colbert, formerly of the 7300 block of Murray Hill Road in Columbia, is charged with fatally shooting Loomis Armored car guard Frederick John Cook Jr., 58, of Middle River on Jan. 11 as he delivered money to the Signet Bank at the Long Reach Shopping Center in Columbia.
Police said that after the shooting, the assailant took $60,000 from the delivery cart outside the bank. Two other defendants in the case will be tried later.
In a statement of charges earlier, county police identified Mr. Colbert as the person who shot Mr. Cook.
Before the hearing was closed yesterday, Mr. O'Connor said that the defense had subpoenaed Anna Cook, Mr. Cook's widow, and that the pretrial hearing involved plea negotiations that had occurred between the defense and the prosecution. Sources close to the case said that because Mrs. Cook had opposed the plea deal, the state decided to back off from its offer.
In a motion argued in open court later, Robert G. Landolt, the defense attorney, asked the court to nullify notices that the state had filed with the defense counsel Oct. 5 that it would seek the death penalty and life imprisonment without parole. He maintained that the law requires the defendant to be served personally with the notices and that was not done.
"In this case, the state goofed," Mr. Landolt said.
Mr. O'Connor maintained that the notices were valid, saying, "It is well settled law going back to medieval England that notice to an attorney is a notice to the client." Judge Kane said he would decide that issue Monday, when the trial begins.