STOCKTON (CBS SF/BCN) – A judge denied a gag order Tuesday morning that was requested by the attorney of a man suspected of alleged serial killings in Stockton.
Wesley Brownlee, 43, of Stockton, was detained on Oct. 15 in the area of Village Green Drive and Winslow Way in connection with six homicides, five in Stockton and one in Oakland, in addition to a suspected attempted murder.
Police alleged that Brownlee was wearing dark clothing, a mask around his neck and carrying a firearm.
Brownlee's public defender, Allison Nobert, told a judge Monday that she had filed for a protective order against pretrial publicity because she believed statements from the county's district attorney and Stockton police were "prejudicial" and could prevent her client from having a fair trial.
However, Judge Xapuri Villapudua struck down the motion, stating that the courts couldn't at this point in time find a reasonable likelihood that the negative media coverage would prevent a fair trial from occurring.
Deputy District Attorney Elton Grau had argued Monday during court that the protective motion would prevent the police and investigators to continue investigating the case.
"Here, we are in the very early stages, as Mr. Grau pointed out, trial is a year or more away," said Villapudua. "We are also in the era of the 24-hour news cycle and it's highly likely that this case will not have the coverage that it's currently generating."
In court Monday afternoon, Nobert had shown articles from media outlets like ABC News, the New York Times, the Stockton Record and the Sacramento Bee, where San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar made "inflammatory statements" about Brownlee.
Nobert also called out statements from Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden, saying he accused Brownlee of "hunting" for his next victim and told the press that "he was sure they had stopped another killing."
She said these statements were putting her clients Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights at stake and raised concerns about finding an impartial jury.
Villapudua said despite her ruling, she doesn't condone any of the inflammatory statements made to the press and urged all parties to keep the issues in mind going forward when speaking to the media.
"My ruling does not prevent the defendants from requesting a protective order in the future if she feels the need is arising," the judge said.
The victims of the string of shootings include a 35-year-old white man, a 43-year-old Hispanic man, a 21-year-old Hispanic man, a 52-year-old Hispanic man, a 54-year-old Hispanic man, a 40-year-old Hispanic man in Oakland and a 46-year-old Black woman who survived her injuries.
Brownlee is next set to appear at the San Joaquin County Superior Court on Nov. 14 at 9 a.m.
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