An Allen County judge issued a sweeping order preventing the release of information in a murder case involving the death of a child last year.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys for Daniel Pope, 29, sought the ruling, which stops “any party, including the (state) Department of Child Services and the Allen Superior Court Family Relations Division, from releasing any information and opinions” in the case. Lawyers argued releasing the information would threaten Pope's right to a fair trial.
Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull's order Wednesday comes after she ruled last month documents containing details about the child's alleged abuse will be kept secret, pending “further order of the court.” Indiana lawmakers also are debating a bill to restrict public access to records in child abuse and neglect cases.
Pope is charged with murder and aggravated battery in the March 2018 death of his girlfriend's son. Benjamyn Otto McKinney Frederick, 5, was “severely beaten” and had “numerous defensive wounds in addition to his brutal wounds on his chest wall and all up and down his left side and on his genitalia,” doctors told police.
A four-day trial is scheduled July 9.
Lawyers on both sides of the case have been working since Jan. 31 to prevent the release of DCS documents and other information they say could bias potential jurors.
An unnamed news organization asked for the documents, and prosecutors and the Allen County public defender's office have said they want to avoid complicating the path to trial – something that happened in another local child abuse-related death.
In that case, Amber Garrett, 27, is charged with felony neglect in the death of her 2-year-old son, Malakai, in 2017. The boy was beaten, according to investigators, and Mitchell Vanryn, 28, is charged with murder.
The Journal Gazette last year obtained hundreds of pages of DCS documents indicating Malakai was abused and published information taken from the records. Gull ordered out-of-county jurors to hear Garrett's case, saying in court confidential information included in the reports should not have been released.
Vanryn also has asked for jurors from outside Allen County to hear his case.
Gull wrote in her order this week in Pope's case that releasing information could lead to a similar situation.
There is “a substantial likelihood that the release of this information and pretrial publicity will substantially prejudice (Pope's) ability to receive a fair trial in Allen County as this case, like Garrett, also involves the allegation of child abuse resulting in death,” the order states.
State law allows for the release of such information. When it's requested, DCS releases the records to its local office, which then turns them over to a judge to redact anything confidential.
A judge in the Allen Superior Court Family Relations Division released documents last year to The Journal Gazette and WANE-TV.
A bill to curb access to that type of information unanimously passed the Indiana Senate in February, and the legislation has moved to the House.
A hearing on the bill has not been scheduled.