Colo. judge’s order closing hearing is overturned
DENVER — The Colorado Supreme Court Thursday overturned a judge’s decision to close a key hearing for the teen suspect accused of killing a 10-year-old Westminster girl and attacking a jogger in May.
The court sided with media organizations that argued the judge failed to show that holding the hearing in public would jeopardize Austin Sigg’s right to a fair trial or consider other ways to protect Sigg’s rights without shutting out the public.
Sigg is accused of kidnapping and killing Jessica Ridgeway in October. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Friday, but prosecutors and Sigg’s defense attorneys could request a delay. Another hearing earlier this month had been canceled because of the judge’s decision and subsequent media challenge.
Judge Stephen Munsinger in December said he closed the hearing because he wanted to ensure a fair trial and to protect the privacy of victims and their families. Neither Munsinger nor Sigg’s public defenders returned messages.
Pam Russell of the district attorney’s office could not immediately comment.
Media organizations including The Associated Press appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, arguing for the public’s right to attend court hearings unless the judge articulates a good legal reason for closing the hearing.
“This is about the public’s right to attend court hearings,” said attorney Steven Zansberg, who represented media organizations.
In a statement he added: “We are pleased by (the) decision reaffirming the public’s right, under the U.S. Constitution, to attend hearings in criminal cases.”
Preliminary hearings are where prosecutors present evidence against a suspect, sometimes publicly revealing previously undisclosed information. A judge then decides whether to hold a trial or release the suspect.
Sigg, 18, is charged with murder, kidnapping, sexual assault on a child and robbery in Jessica’s abduction and slaying. Jessica was abducted Oct. 5 as she walked to school in the Denver suburb of Westminster.
Sigg also faces attempted murder, attempted sexual assault and attempted second-degree kidnapping in the attack on the jogger at a lake across the street from an elementary school where Jessica attended fifth-grade. The 22-year-old woman said she was running at the lake when a man grabbed her from behind and placed a rag with a chemical smell over her mouth.
Authorities have not said whether the rag had a chemical on it that was meant to subdue the woman.