Ruling Grants Greater Access

May 6, 2002
Reprinted with permission of the New Haven Register, May 3, 2002

A Superior Court judge will allow media outlets to copy photographs and other evidence in the Concetta "Penney" Serra murder trial.

Thursday morning, after reviewing a legal motion filed by the New Haven Register, Judge Jon Blue ruled that the media have a legal right to copy courtroom exhibits beyond their ability to merely review them.

"The law does in fact give the public and the press the right to make copies of documents that are admitted into evidence," said Register attorney Mark R. Kravitz, of the New Haven law firm Wiggin & Dana.

It was a decision, the attorney said, that clearly was in the public interest, providing unique perspectives for people who otherwise would not attend the trial.

"This will give broader access to the public through the Register of what’s actually happening in that trial," Kravitz said, and will allow readers to "actually see some of the court exhibits."

The murder trial for Edward R. Grant, a 59 year-old auto mechanic from Waterbury, entered its fifth day today.

He is charged in the 1973 stabbing death of Serra on the 10th floor in the Temple Street parking garage.

The question of access arose Wednesday in court. According to state law, any piece of evidence is available to the public after a judge makes it a full exhibit in a trial.

In the Serra case, Blue permitted reporters access to exhibits in the high-profile trial but denied a request by a Register reporter to make copies of the exhibits. The jurist agreed to consider legal arguments on the topic and the newspaper’s attorney filed a motion supporting the assertion that state and federal law requires that court allow the process.

Quoting both civil and federal precedent, Kravitz wrote that "denying the Register the right to copy the exhibits will violate the United States Constitution and the laws and public policy of Connecticut and would seriously impair the Register’s rights…"

Blue met with the prosecution and defense attorneys and agreed to permit reproductions with one provision – that reporters provide notice if they intend to make copies of any images of the autopsy or body at the crime scene.

"I am thankful Judge Blue granted our motion." Said Jack Kramer, editor of the Register. "We believe there is overwhelming interest in this unprecendeted trial. Having access to all the evidence will allow us to present a more complete picture to our readers."

The Register requested the right to make copies of the photos specifically because the 12-member jury in the case will be asked to base its verdict in part on several visual comparisons.

Two witnesses for the state, Timothy Woodstock and Fred Petzold, claim they saw a man chase Serra through the garage and helped an artist in 1973 create two composite images of a suspect.

Prosecutors have said they believe these sketches resemble Grant in a photo taken about a month before the murder. They are expected to submit that photo as evidence later in the trial.

Grant’s public defenders, however, say another eyewitness, Gary Hryb, had a clear view of the killer and fingered another man in the crime.

Hryb helped the same artist create a somewhat different sketch that has also become evidence in the case. Grant’s attorneys will argue the man pictured is Philip DeLieto, Serra’s former fiancé and the same man Hryb picked out of a police lineup the night of the murder.

Grant’s defense team claims Hryb’s ability to identify DeLieto as a suspect is particularly compelling because he never knew the victim and didn’t know she and DeLieto had been engaged.

Prosecutors will counter that Hryb was high on marijuana when the suspect sped by him in Serra’s car.