Trial of juvenile in murder case should be open to the public

Posted Monday, Oct. 21, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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For 18 hours in June, the Somali refugee community in east Fort Worth was frantic because a 5-year-old boy last seen riding his bicycle was missing.

That community’s panic quickly turned to horror — a painful shock shared by people all over North Texas — when the boy’s body was found in a neighborhood backyard.

Sida Osman had been beaten to death.

A day later, a 13-year-old neighbor was arrested and confessed, telling police he took Sida to the fenced yard, grew irritated and hit the child twice with a bowling ball.

The teenager was too young to be certified an adult on capital murder charges. The district attorney’s office, however, sought (and was granted) approval by the grand jury for “determinate sentencing,” meaning that the defendant faces up to 40 years in juvenile detention and then prison.

The accused is now 14, an important detail. On Tuesday, the judge will consider a defense motion to close his hearing next month to the public.

Any defendant should be assured the fairest possible treatment in our courts, and that legal bar is even more important when applied to juvenile cases, where justice also means doing what is best for the young person accused.

That said, it is important that this hearing is open to the public and the media, based on the people’s right to know, and in deference to a grieving community still asking why this happened and how such crimes might be prevented in the future.

Based on state statute, the presumption is that a hearing for a juvenile 14 or older will be open.

Section 54.08 of the Texas Family Code states, “Except as provided by this section, the court shall open hearings under this title to the public unless the court, for good cause shown, determines that the public should be excluded.”

It continues, “If a child is under [emphasis ours] the age of 14 at the time of the hearing, the court shall close the hearing to the public unless the court finds that the interests of the child or the interests of the public would be better served by opening the hearing to the public.”

Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon Jr. told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board: “We are opposed to any motion to close any court from public view. The public has a right to know what goes on in our courtrooms.”

We wholeheartedly agree.

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