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May 19, 2019

New York Times reporter must testify in Baby Hope murder trial, appeals court rules

June 28, 2018
The New York State Court of Appeals ruled against New York Times reporter Frances Robles’ effort to avoid testifying in the Baby Hope trial. (Matthew H. Wade)

New York’s highest court on Wednesday ruled that a New York Times reporter can be forced to testify in the Baby Hope murder trial.

The Court of Appeals, in a 4-3 decision, ruled against Times reporter Frances Robles’ effort to quash a subpoena from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office that requires her to testify about a jailhouse interview she had in 2013 with Conrado Juarez, the suspect charged with murder in the case.

Largely ignoring the First Amendment issues, the court declared that New York’s criminal procedure law did not afford Robles the ability to appeal the trial court’s rejection of her motion to quash the subpoena. Only direct participants in a criminal proceeding — the prosecution or defense — can appeal trial court decisions under state law, the court found.

“We are not unsympathetic to Robles’ policy-driven arguments,” the majority wrote in a memorandum deciding the case.

“However, the right to appeal is not premised on the nature of the challenge waged, and this court cannot ‘create the right to appeal out of thin air,’ ” the memorandum continued.

New York Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said “we are disappointed in the court’s ruling, which is a setback for press freedom in New York. It is imperative that the Legislature act to correct the problem.”

Sarah Matthews, a staff attorney with the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, said the decision undermines New York’s Shield Law, which is intended to protect journalists from having to divulge sources and notes.

“This could have broad and negative ramifications for members of the media in New York,” she said.

The Manhattan DA’s Office declined to comment.

Juarez, 54, was charged in October 2013 with the second-degree murder of Anjelica Castillo in the notorious 1991 child slaying. Police claim that Juarez, a restaurant dishwasher, admitted to smothering the girl in an attempt at silencing her screams as he was sexually assaulting her in his sister’s apartment.

Days after he was arrested, Juarez was interviewed by Robles on Rikers Island and, among other things, denied killing the child and said his confession was coerced. He said the girl died after falling down the stairs and he had only helped his sister dispose of the body.

Prosecutors have argued that Robles’ testimony about her conversations with Juarez are an important part of their case.

Robles had argued that under New York’s Shield Law, which protects journalists, she should not be compelled to testify.

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