A Knox County judge is declining to give prosecutors in a double-murder trial the go-ahead to force “Dateline NBC” to turn over an unreleased video interview with the case’s lead suspect.
Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steve Sword in a ruling issued Friday said the state – in its argument to secure the recordings – failed to prove that the interview was valuable and unique enough to bypass Tennessee’s press shield law that protects journalists from revealing sources and information.
At issue was a yet-to-be broadcast interview the television magazine conducted with Norman Clark following last year’s murder trial that ended with a hung jury and a mistrial after jurors failed to reach a unanimous decision.
Prosecutors have since announced they will retry Clark for the December 2011 killings of Brittany Eldridge, 25, and their unborn son, Ezekiel.
“The interview would have been very detrimental to the state,” said Gregory P. Isaacs, who represented Clark during his first trial and accompanied him to the interview. “Mr. Clark was candid and open about his relationship with Brittany Eldridge and other issues. The press shield – much like the attorney-client privilege – is sacrosanct and is designed to protect all of our rights, and I think it was a correct ruling.”
The Knox County prosecutor’s office in April began the legal process to force Dateline to turn over its interview, but acknowledged that – if given permission in Knox County – the battle would eventually be fought in New York City, since that’s where the network is based.
Attorneys for Dateline and the state argued before Sword on Thursday.
In his ruling, Sword noted that state legislation provides an exemption to the shield law if prosecutors can pass three prongs:
- Prove there is probable cause to believe that the information sought is relevant to breaking a law.
- Demonstrate that the information sought cannot be reasonably obtained by another means.
- Demonstrate a “compelling and overriding public interest of the people” in the information.
By merely granting an interview, Sword agreed that the information sought was relevant.
However, he ruled that prosecutors could not prove the second two prongs.
Sword noted that the state didn’t know exactly what Clark said during the interview and that the information “may very well already be in the possession of the state through his interviews with the police.”
Sword also said the lack of information - as to what was said during the interviews - also led him to conclude that prosecutors failed to establish “by clear and convincing evidence the third prong.”
“If there was evidence that Mr. Clark gave a confession, made an admission against interests, or simply contradicted his previous statements to the police in some material way that would be relevant to guilt, this court may very well find that the state would have a compelling interest in this information since that would be significantly contrary to the evidence that was presented during the first trial,” Sword wrote in his ruling. "However, at this point, evidence of such incriminating statement or acts is non-existent. The law does not allow the court to engage in such speculation or to conduct further inquiry.”