October 14, 2019
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Judge to review media recordings related to 1989 murder case

Jake Bleiberg | BDN file
Jake Bleiberg | BDN file
Anthony Sanborn Jr. listens in a Portland courtroom as the key witness in his 1992 murder trial recants the testimony that helped send him to prison.

PORTLAND, Maine — A judge wants to review recordings from local news broadcasts related to the legal push to clear Anthony Sanborn of a 1989 murder before ruling on whether they must be turned over to his lawyer as evidence in the case.

On Monday, Justice Joyce Wheeler ordered WGME-TV and Maine Public to send the court the raw recordings from their April interviews with the prosecutor who originally handled Sanborn’s trial and conviction for the murder of 16-year-old Jessica Briggs.

Earlier in May, the lawyer working to help Sanborn clear his name filed motions with the Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court seeking to have the broadcasters to turn over all the material, including outtakes, from news segments interviewing former Assistant Attorney General Pamela Ames.

Amy Fairfield, Sanborn’s defense attorney, said that Ames’ statements during the interviews were vital to Sanborn’s ability to prepare for the hearing in which he will seek to have his indictment vacated or get a new trial. But it was not clear from her filing what Fairfield hopes to find in the interview outtakes.

The broadcasters are fighting Fairfield on the issue, claiming that granting her unusual motions would have a “chilling effect” on Maine media’s ability to gather and report the news.

Maine Public and WGME are seeking to quash the lawyer’s subpoenas, which they claim are unnecessary because the most newsworthy things Ames said were aired and the former prosecutor will testify during Sanborn’s hearing.

In order to weigh Sanborn’s rights as a criminal defendant against the media organizations’ claims to First Amendment protections, Wheeler wants to see what is on the tapes Fairfield is seeking. The judge has given WGME and Maine Public seven days to send the court the outtake material from their interviews with Ames.

Reviewing the recordings “will allow the court to better balance the competing constitutional interests and ensure that disclosure of journalistic products is limited to cases where the information would, in fact, be of significant utility,” wrote Wheeler.

Fairfield, WGME and Maine Public did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The WGME and Maine Public broadcasts interviewing Ames are still available online.

Whether or not the recordings of Ames are ultimately turned over, she is among the dozens of witnesses that Fairfield intends to call to testify during the hearing, which is scheduled to start on July 24. A witness list Fairfield filed Monday names 37 people including numerous police, lawyers, witnesses and others who were involved in Sanborn’s original trial.

Sanborn himself also is expected to testify “to the unequivocal fact of his actual innocence,” according to the court document.

Fairfield estimated in the filing that the hearing will take “eight to ten days as there are more witnesses who have yet to be revealed.”

The state has not yet submitted a witness list.
The BDN has content sharing agreements with Maine Public and WGME.



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