An appeals court has agreed to consider a request by the Miami Herald to allow the public to attend a key pre-trial hearing for two people accused of a gruesome machete murder in Homestead.
The Third District Court of Appeal on Wednesday ordered a trial-court judge to stay a hearing that was scheduled to be held in secret next week. It was earlier this month that the trial judge ruled that Desiray Strickland and Joseph Cabrera’s right to a fair trial would be violated if the media was allowed to attend a so-called “Arthur” hearing to determine whether they can released on bail before trial.
Judge Dava Tunis’ decision was highly unusual – Florida is generally known as having one of the most transparent criminal-court systems in the country, and hearings are rarely closed to the public.
She ruled that “pervasive publicity” surrounding the case would jeopardize the right to a fair and impartial jury in the future. At the Arthur hearing, prosecutors are expected to detail the confessions of four defendants; those statements have been sealed by the court under Florida law.
Cabrera and Strickland are charged along with Kaheem Arbelo, Christian Colon and Jonathan Lucas.
They are accused of conspiring to murder Jose Amaya Guardado, whose viciously stabbed body was discovered in June 2015 in a shallow grave in the woods of Homestead. All of them, including the victim, attended Homestead Job Corps, a live-in school and vocational training program run by the U.S. Department of Labor.
But the Miami Herald and WPLG-ABC10, in a brief filed Wednesday to the appeals court, argued that the decision “that hearings of such magnitude and public importance should be held in secret and outside the presence of the public is unconstitutional.”
Herald lawyers Scott Ponce and Sandy Bohrer also argued against the judge’s ruling that picking a jury is “increasingly impossible” in high-profile cases, even in a county as large as Miami-Dade.
“No trial date has been set for any defendant,” they wrote. “Trial could be years away.”
Third DCA judges Linda Ann Wells, Vance Salter and Thomas Logue ordered prosecutors and lawyers for the defendants to file their own written arguments by next week.