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Komisarjevsky Witnesses Are Not Bound by Gag Order

Judge extends the gag order to state Department of Correction employees.

A Superior Court judge has extended the gag order for the trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky to all employees of the state Department of Correction, but not to trial witnesses as the defense had requested.

Judge Roland D. Fasano issued his ruling Friday at New Haven Superior Court regarding the second Cheshire home invasion defendant, charged with murdering a mother and and her two daughters in 2007.

The defense had sought to bar witnesses from speaking to the news media.

Still unresolved is the issue, currently before the Connecticut Supreme Court, of whether the trial witness lists might be released to the media and the public.

Fasano also denied the defense request for a "safe harbor" provision, which would allow Komisarjevsky’s three special public defenders to speak to the news media in certain, narrow circumstances related to the case.

Currently, there is a gag order in effect that prohibits defense attorneys, prosecutors and Dr. William Petit, the surviving member of the home invasion ordeal, from speaking publicly about the trial.

But Fasano’s order said he would consider motions by the defense attorneys "to allow an appropriate response to any specific instance of undue, adverse publicity that falls within the parameters" of the court’s existing rules.

The defense had cited the statements in May by state Sen. Edith Prague that Komisarjevsky should be hanged publicly by his genitals without a trial as an example of excessive negative publicity that the gag order currently does not allow them to address.

In his written order, Fasano said adding corrections officials to the gag list, but not witnesses, was consistent with rulings during the trial of Komisarjevsky’s co-defendant, Steven Hayes, in 2010.

Hayes was convicted and sentenced to die by lethal injection. Komisarjevsky also faces the death penalty in his trial, which is scheduled to begin on Sept. 19 in New Haven.

The witness list controversy started in March as jury selection for Komisarjevsky commenced.

Because they indicated there were about 200 potential witnesses they might call, Judge Jon C. Blue, the trial judge, asked defense lawyers and prosecutors to prepare written lists of witnesses to show jury panelists to determine if the jurors knew any of the trial participants. The same procedure was used for the Hayes trial.

But when the Hartford Courant asked the judge to release the lists, the defense argued this might jeopardize Komisarjevsky’s right to a fair trial by exposing potential witness to threats and intimidation, discouraging them from testifying.

Although Blue and the state Appellate Court have ruled against the defense, they have extended the order sealing the witness lists until there is a final resolution of the issue.

The state Supreme Court heard arguments on the issue on June 24, but has not yet issued a ruling.

The judge's ruling can be seen in the attached pdf.

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