Seven Days risk fair trial for Rooney

Seven Days published an editorial by an anonymous FBI agent last week that, according to Brian Rooney’s attorney, hasjeopardized Rooney’s right to a fair trial and should lead to a dismissal of his case. The editorial, written by an anonymouslawenforcement officer who referred tohimself as a “cop” and was verified by a bureau lawyer as a federal agent, outlined his involvement in the investigation of Michelle Gardner-Quinn’s murder and conclusively stated that Rooney had murdered Gardner-Quinn.In the editorial, Rooney’s name was never used directly but it was irrefutably clear that he was being referred to when the agent called him a “violent sexual predator, a man who preys on the vulnerable in the dark places like some kind of two legged hyena.” The anonymous agent also wrote, “I will not sink to his level and take his life, though I admit the idea does not repel me. I haveattended the deaths of others who did not deserve it nearly as much as he does.” The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury. According to The Burlington Free Press, Rooney’slawyer, David Sleigh, wrote in a three-page motion that, “the state has intentionally and maliciously endeavored to deprive him of a fair trial.” Sleigh’s argument that Rooney can no longer receive a fair trial stems not only from the article, but also from a Burlington police officer’s appearance on national television, according to The Free Press.Pamela Polston is the copublisher and editor of Seven Days, which has statewide distribution and a wide readership.Polston defended the publication of the editorial in an interview with The Burlington Free Press, citing freedom of expression.”We stand behind the freedom of expression of every citizen, including that of law enforcement officers, and, like all newspapers, offer a forum to our readers for that expression,” Polston told The FreePress in an interview.But Sleigh still contends that the police officer went overboard in his writing. He told The Free Press, “This is an intentional comment on the strength of the state’s case with the sole purpose of influencing potential jurors.” In the Seven Days article, the “anonymous cop” wrote, “My respect for the law stays my hand, twitch though it may…we go greatlengths to extend the protection of the law to someone who has so terribly violated it.””I am better than him,” he wrote. But his words may have acted to hinder the very justice he works to protect. “He is right to want to let everyone know what happened and how dedicated the law enforcementofficers were, but if that jeopardizes this guy’s right to a trial then there is nothing right about it,” said Ben Guttridge, UVM freshman and political science major.In many court cases that involve potentially damaging press coverage, a change of venue occurs to find an impartial jury. But in regards to changing the trial location, Sleigh was quoted in The FreePress as saying, “To where? Mars?” Vermont Law School professor Michael Mello told The Free Press, “This is wildly unethical; I don’t know what this guy was thinking.”This has given the defendant the opportunity to escape the very justice the cop is purporting to support,” he said.Within the next week, it is expected that prosecutors will file a written response to Sleigh’s motion in Vermont District Court in Burlington, The Free Press reported.