CBS Producer Keeps Freedom

Jury selection in the last of the Jasper, Texas dragging-murder trials was delayed for a time Friday as lawyers and the judge addressed an important First Amendment issue, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob McNamara.

At issue is CBS News Anchor Dan Rather's interview with defendant Shawn Allen Berry on last month's 60 Minutes II broadcast.

Dan Rather interviewed Shawn Berry for a 60 Minutes II exclusive.

Click here to see it.

Friday morning, Mary Mapes, the producer of the 60 Minutes II segment on Berry, was threatened with jail by District Judge Joe Bob Golden unless she surrendered a full transcript of the interview by that afternoon.

Prosecutors also want all the videotapes of the Berry interview, even the portions that never aired.

Jasper County District Attorney Guy James Gray said, "It is inconceivable to me that anybody who would have a statement of the accused wouldn't want that fact known to the jury, whatever it says."

CBS News president Andrew Heyward says it is an issue that separates journalists from government.

"We are pursuing the legal means at our disposal to protect our constitutional rights and not turn over what we consider private confidential journalistic materials."

Texas does not have First Amendment shield laws to protect reporter's notes and outtakes from being seized. Still, late Friday, after taking Mapes' case to a higher court in nearby Beaumont, an appeals judge stayed the threat to jail her until a hearing next Thursday.


CBS
CBS News producer Mary Mapes, right, walking outside of the Texas courthouse.
"Everything's on hold now," said Mike Raiff, Mapes' attorney. "We're very pleased with the ruling."

Prosecutors were disappointed. "I don't think the Rather tapes would make a critical amount of difference, but it's information the jury ought to know," said Gray.

Berry is the third of three white capital murder defendants to go on trial in the dragging death of a black East Texas man.

Prosecutors say they want to compare Berry's statements in the outtakes to others he gave during the investigation into the June 7, 1998, death of James Byrd Jr.

In the CBS interview, Berry said he tried to stop the attack on Byrd, but backed off when one of his alleged accomplices, John William King, threatened him.

King and Lawrence Russell Brewer, white upremacists who became buddies in prison, were convicted and sentenced to death earlier this year in separate trials.

Mapes testified the transcripts were at her house, about 200 miles northwest of Jasper. She also said she never had the raw tapes in her possession and last saw them when Rather left for New York.

Charles Babcock, an attorney for Mapes, said, "The tapes are the exclusive property of CBS and not Ms. Mapes."

In the meantime, prosecutors say they'll continue to prepare a subpoena for Dan Rather to testify at Berry's trial next month. Earlier this week, a judge's order characterized the CBS News anchor as a necessary witness.

The president of CBS News said he would oppose having Rather testify.

Whether the focus on transcripts benefited Berry was unclear, as jury selection reached the midway point in his trial Friday.

"I don't know whether it's been good for us or not," said defense attorney Joseph C. Hawthorn. "It's probably distracted the district attorney's office."

Gray said he was focusing on jury selection, and leaving the subpoena matter to other members of his team.