Judge scolds magazine editors for calling juror BALTIMORE CITY

April 08, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

When editors at Baltimore magazine heard that one of their free-lance writers was a juror in last fall's Dontay Carter trial, they got an idea: Why not call him and ask him to take notes for a first-person article on the experience?

The editors got their story, and they also got a subpoena. Lawyers for Carter said the contact with the juror while the murder trial was under way was improper and grounds for a new trial.

In the end, Circuit Judge John N. Prevas denied the motion for a new trial, ruling yesterday that the incident did not taint the juror or deny the East Baltimore teen-ager due process. But the judge complained that Mark Cohen, a senior editor for the magazine, acted "irresponsibly."

Throughout the trial, Judge Prevas admonished jurors not to discuss the case with outsiders until the trial's conclusion.

Mr. Cohen said he did not violate journalistic ethics by contacting the juror. But Ramsey Flynn, the magazine's executive editor, who also made calls to the juror, said in an interview: "I guess, to me, technically it was an ethical lapse."

Both editors stressed that they were careful not to discuss the facts of the case against Carter, who faces a sentence of life in prison without parole after being convicted of first-degree murder in the beating death of a Catonsville man.

Mr. Cohen said: "I guess in the future, realizing just how delicate a situation it could be, I guess I would just make sure to not even talk to a friend [on a jury] during the course of a trial, given my position as a journalist."

The editors testified that they left messages on Kent Steinriede's answering machine, asking him to take notes while sitting on the Carter jury. Mr. Steinriede, who had written pieces for Baltimore, said he assumed they wanted him to write an article on the trial, but went out of his way not to discuss the case.

The editors testified they consulted a lawyer, who determined they had done nothing improper but advised them to play it safe by suspending contact with the juror.

But Mr. Cohen later met Mr. Steinriede for a Sunday breakfast. That seemed to annoy Judge Prevas, who castigated Mr. Cohen for "persisting even though there was an idea from counsel that further contact was imprudent."

Two days after the trial ended, Mr. Steinriede met with the editors. The meeting produced an agreement for him to write "The Diary of Juror No. 2," which appeared in January.

After the motion for a new trial was denied, John S. Deros, lawyer for Carter, said his client was ready to be sentenced. But Judge Prevas ordered Carter to undergo a psychological evaluation and an IQ test and set sentencing for June 8.

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