DODGE CITY, Kan. — A judge rejected a bid for a delay in his order requiring a reporter to testify in court about her jailhouse interview of a murder suspect, saying he doubted her arguments would win on appeal.
The Jan. 4 decision by District Judge Daniel Love leaves intact the subpoena against Dodge City Globe reporter Claire O'Brien for her testimony at an inquisition, the Kansas equivalent of a grand jury, which may take place as early as next week.
Ford County Attorney Terry Malone subpoenaed O'Brien to testify about her interview with Samuel Bonilla, who is charged with second-degree murder in the Labor Day shooting death of Steven Holt and the attempted murder of Tanner Brunson. Bonilla has said he acted in self-defense.
Malone also is seeking the identity of confidential sources who reportedly told O'Brien that one of the victims had "a base of support that is well-known for its anti-Hispanic beliefs" and has a supply of semiautomatic weapons.
An Oct. 13 Globe story also quoted bail bondswoman Rebecca Escalante as saying several people had warned her Bonilla's life would be in danger if he were released from jail.
"Granting a stay order would leave the investigation where it is now — stymied," Love said. "And it would leave Sam Bonilla's life in danger. Granting the stay order would also place a higher value on the reporter's unfounded legal argument than it would on the safety of Sam Bonilla."
Attorney Michael Giardine, who is representing the newspaper and the reporter, argued that granting the stay would not hinder Malone's investigation.
The newspaper has challenged the subpoena on the grounds that forcing O'Brien to testify would violate her First Amendment rights and hurt her ability to gather news.
O'Brien has said nobody would trust her again if she revealed the identities of her sources. She contends the victims' friends and associates already are known to law enforcement.
"If I had knowledge that would protect a man's life, that would prevent a murder or solve a murder ... I would not hesitate to inform the authorities," O'Brien said. "I have no such knowledge."
She also said she already told Malone what Bonilla said to her during the jailhouse interview when she called the prosecutor for comment.
Giardine told the judge he was not seeking an indefinite delay, noting he had filed a notice of intent to appeal with the Kansas Court of Appeals but needed more time to file the appeal itself. He said there were few legal precedents involving a reporter's privilege and the case raised certain constitutional issues for the appeals court to consider.
"I am not sure exactly how far I am going to go at this point," O'Brien said.