Statement in killing of campers at issue

A newspaper wants to read parts not involving the alleged confession, but the defense objects.

Published August 15, 2006

The defense attorney for Leo Boatman, the Largo man accused of killing two campers in Ocala National Forest, argued Monday that Boatman's alleged confession should remain sealed.

Marion County Chief Assistant Public Defender William Miller and Ocala Star-Banner attorney Rachel Fugate made their cases before Circuit Judge Sue Robbins in Ocala.

Robbins did not rule immediately.

Boatman, 20, was arrested in January after authorities say he took a bus from Pinellas County to Marion County, where he hiked into the forest and fatally shot two Santa Fe Community College students, Amber Peck and John Parker, both 26, with an AK-47 assault rifle.

The Ocala Star-Banner already has quoted Marion County sheriff's officials talking about portions of Boatman's interview. Last week the newspaper filed a public records request for the transcripts. On Friday, Miller filed a motion opposing the disclosure.

Fugate said the newspaper is not seeking to obtain the statements within the transcript that would constitute a direct admission of guilt.

Rather, the newspaper is looking for any other statements Boatman may have made to law enforcement officials that don't speak directly to whether or not he admits to killing the two college students, she said.

"Not everything in an interview would be the confession," Fugate said. "We acknowledge that we are not entitled to (elements of a confession) at this time. ... Anything else should be disclosed."

Miller argued in his motion that all statements Boatman made in his interview should be sealed. He said that the law states that confessions are not to be made public until cases are adjudicated.

Releasing Boatman's statements to the public, Miller argued, would compromise a fair trial.

In making his case, he blamed media coverage for causing delays in other recent high-profile cases in the region.

He said a judge was forced to call off jury selection during the John Couey trial because many Lake County potential jurors had been exposed to media coverage - including records of the defendant's confession that he sexually assaulted and killed Jessica Lunsford.

"My client's constitutional right to a fair trial is not outweighed by the First Amendment," Miller said.

Prosecutors did not take a position on whether the judge should release the transcripts.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway said his office merely advised the judge that the law exempts confessions from public disclosure.

Marion County sheriff's officials declined to comment Monday.