As of Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Mark Lankford will have his trial for murder in another county.
Part of that is our fault.
A recent district court order has allowed a defense motion for a change of venue in the case, specifically due to the news stories written and broadcast by area newspapers and TV on Lankford, who is headed for a new trial for the 1983 double homicide of an Arizona couple.
The same thing happened in Lankford’s prior retrial in 2008, for the same reason: Local news stories concerning the events leading into a new trial being granted, and the subsequent pre-trial coverage has potentially biased area residents, who would make up a jury pool for this case, predisposing them to believe Lankford’s guilt in the matter.
It’s a conflicting issue.
It’s understandable for the defense to have such a concern. The case needs to be judged on the facts as presented and countered in court proceedings that are open to public view.
What’s frustrating is the implication that coverage and comment on this public process is inappropriate and has a negative impact toward the service of justice. To this we’ll raise a few points.
One, press coverage of criminal cases and court proceedings provides accountability, not just for the person or persons involved, but also of the process itself, from the arrest to the courtroom. This is so it is conducted with transparency by all those involved and with due process, and the public can see its workings and better understand how and why justice is administered.
We’re not a banana republic; we conduct such matters in the full public gaze, which is primarily carried out through the watchdog role of journalism.
Two, coverage of these events is important for the sake of history; to put this on the record that allows for public reference to review these matters and from this know where they can go to pursue further information.
In the end would we do something different with our coverage of the Lankford case? Apart from correcting obvious errors made regarding the process or facts of the case, no, because this is what we do – and what journalists everywhere are mandated to do. In fact, were there more hours in the day and bodies to report on this, the story would likely receive more coverage. There are more voices to be heard and always another lead to chase to see how this case continues to impact us, our region and state.
This is our job. It’s what you support your local paper to do; to cover your communities, both the good and bad events that occur in them. As a result, Lankford will get his day in court elsewhere.
We’ll let you know what happens.