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No ruling on access to Kan. teen's murder case

Published on -10/23/2013, 7:26 AM

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HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) -- A Reno County judge delayed a decision Tuesday on a 14-year-old Hutchinson boy's request to bar public access to court proceedings over the arson deaths of his mother and younger sister.

The teen is charged with first-degree murder in their deaths and with the attempted murder of his father. He also is charged with aggravated arson in the Sept. 26 fire at the family's home.

Judge Patricia Macke Dick put off a ruling after a hearing Tuesday on a defense motion for an order to close all hearings, seal the court record and impose a gag order. The judge took the matter under advisement after The Hutchinson News intervened in the case with a motion seeking to keep court proceedings open, said Reno County District Attorney Keith Schroeder.

In court filings, defense attorney Gregory Bell has cited the media attention in the case, saying his client's right to a fair trial will be prejudiced by the publicity. He also wrote that putting the youth on "public display" could cause embarrassment, fright and psychological damage.

Meanwhile, the state is separately seeking to prosecute him as an adult.

If convicted as a juvenile, the teen would be under the court's jurisdiction until he turns 23. But if convicted as an adult, he'd face a life prison sentence.

The prosecutor wrote in a court document that the teen waited for his parents and younger sister to go to bed upstairs, then poured gasoline throughout the downstairs rooms twice to "do a thorough job." Authorities alleged the youth then soaked the doorways and stairway to block their escape before setting the fire.

Schroeder told the court in his filing that the teen considered the victims to be "loving and caring," and confessed to planning and carrying out the crimes.

The defense attorney has argued that the state's motion to try him as an adult -- which set forth in graphic detail the allegations -- had only served to "exacerbate the prurient interests" of those following the media stories.

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