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SUNY murder trial evidence to be released
Rochester, N.Y. --- A New York State Supreme Court Judge ordered the release of evidence presented during a pre-trial proceeding in the murder case of Clayton Whittemore.
Whittemore is accused of beating his girlfriend Alex Kogut to death in September 2012. Kogut was found in her dorm room on the campus of SUNY Brockport. Whittemore was arrested hours later at a thruway rest stop outside of Syracuse. Both Whittemore and Kogut grew up in the Utica area.
Evidence presented in open court at a suppression hearing in May 2013 was considered by State Supreme Court Justice Daniel Doyle. He ruled in January 2014 that all of the evidence could be admitted at trial against Whittemore.
However, Judge Doyle did not rule on numerous media requests for the release of copies of those exhibits. When pressed again for their release Judge Doyle scheduled a special hearing on the matter. In an unprecedented show of unity five Rochester area media outlets retained and shared the cost of one lawyer to compel the court to release these public records.
"It's never happened," said Chris Thomas of Nixon Peabody when asked if he recalled a similar circumstance. "This is the first time that there's been a consortium pulled together like this to do, in unity, what often is done by one or two media outlets in town."
13WHAM News and Gannett's Democrat and Chronicle were joined by Time Warner Cable News, WROC-CBS, and WHEC-NBC in this application for the release of evidence.
The evidence requested includes 911 recordings that were played in open court on the day of this May 2013 hearing. The evidence requested also includes hours of videotaped interviews involving Whittemore and police investigators. Judge Doyle chose to review these tapes in his chambers after the proceeding and Thomas argued in court papers and court that the judge did not properly "close the courtroom" in order to do that.
"Americans have hated since 250 years ago things happening in private in court," Thomas said. "That dates back to our distrust of what the British were doing two use back in the 1700's."
While not specifically addressing that from the bench on Thursday, Judge Doyle seemingly agreed with that argument when he ruled that the video evidence requested would be placed on file at the Monroe County Clerk's Office. The release of 911 audio recordings would be done in the next two weeks, only after lawyers from all sides can review to ensure the accuracy of each of the copies that are released.
"You know, now that we have videotaped statements we short-circuit the process and again the public is not able to hear what is said during the course of those hearings," said Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley who never opposed the release of the evidence requested by members of the media. "I welcome the judge's decision in this case."
Whittemore's lawyer, Mark Curley, was present in court and argued that the release of this evidence would potentially taint the jury pool. He refused to comment following the proceeding.
13WHAM News expects to obtain the videotaped recordings of these interrogations on Friday and will carefully review before reporting on its contents.