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Nassau judge orders DA’s office to release evidence to media

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The Nassau County District Attorney must turn over evidence, including 911 calls, audio recordings and video, which were presented during the trial of a man accused of killing a police officer and another man after prosecutors refused to make the records available to the press, a judge ruled Thursday.

Nassau County Judge Jerald Carter made the decision during a hearing in the first-degree murder trial of Darrell Fuller. The 34-year-old is accused of killing Nassau County Police Officer Arthur Lopez and then fatally shooting Raymond Facey, 58, of Brooklyn, during an alleged carjacking, prosecutors said. The judge said evidence introduced during the trial should not only be available to people in the courtroom, but to “people in the general community” as well.

Carter’s decision pertains to all evidence previously entered and evidence that will be introduced in the future. He will evaluate on a case-by-case basis if there were objections by prosecutors or Fuller’s defense lawyer, Kenneth St. Bernard, to the release of specific items. Attorneys for the news organizations said the ruling sets a precedent for future cases.

The hearing arose after lawyers for The Associated Press, Newsday and News 12 Long Island argued that evidence presented at the trial is public property once it’s played in open court. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice had previously denied requests made by numerous media outlets for access to materials in the Fuller case and other trials. Among the controversies, was the refusal to provide recordings of 911 calls, which prosecutors maintained they couldn’t legally release.

“Defense attorneys and judges can raise publicity concerns during trials and our first responsibility is to the court and the trial,” Rice spokesman Shams Tarek said in an e-mail responding to a request for a 911 tape. He said it was “along those terms that we’ve declined to share certain evidence used in a trial with the media for further and broader public dissemination.” Citing a section of the state’s county law as the reason behind the denial, Tarek said, “It’s against the law for us to release a 911 recording.” When asked about 911 calls being introduced in the Fuller case, Tarek said, “The law hasn’t changed.”

Carter ruled Thursday that he didn’t believe that section of law applied once the recordings were introduced as evidence. Assistant District Attorney Anthony Perri, who represented the DA’s office at the hearing, said that once the material is introduced into evidence, “it is now the court’s document to decide” whether or not it can be released. Fuller’s lawyer, Kenneth St. Bernard, said the district attorney’s position in court Thursday was “180 degrees opposite of what I heard in chambers yesterday.” He said the release of the documents could mean more motions in the trial, but he didn’t oppose it.

After the hearing, Tarek said his office would “comply with the judge’s order.” As of Thursday afternoon, prosecutors released five computer files. They include 911 calls, police radio transmissions and a cell phone video.

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