Judge denies gag order for suspected shooter

Friday, Oct. 11, 2013 12:51 AM

Facing first-degree murder and attempted murder charges, a teenager’s right to a fair trial has not been prejudiced by media coverage.

Public defender Zach Brown argued Monday, Oct. 7, before District Court Judge Doug Walker that his client, 19-year-old Jeroen Begay of Cortez, had been prejudiced from coverage in the Cortez Journal.

Brown filed a gag order to prohibit law enforcement and prosecutors from talking about the case to the newspaper.

“This is a small town, and a small percentage of people will read the newspaper,” said Walker. “Do you have any evidence that your client has been prejudiced?”

“We can’t point to anything that’s prejudicial,” Brown replied.

Walker then denied the gag order, saying the judicial system must rely that both law enforcement and prosecutors will conduct themselves accordingly under the law. He also said the defense would have the opportunity to question potential jurors to determine any prejudice they may have before any trial proceedings.

First-degree murder charges have been filed against the S. Chestnut Street teenager resulting from a shooting that occurred Sept. 19 at Cedar Terrace Apartments.

On the night in question, police allege a masked Begay gunned down Natalie Hatch, 21, inside the doorway of her residence with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Begay also faces two additional counts of attempted first-degree murder.

After killing Hatch, police believe Begay entered the residence, firing four additional shots. An 18-year-old was also injured, but survived the shooting.

Begay remains in custody without bond. He is expected to return to court for a 10:30 a.m. preliminary hearing on Oct. 22.

About a half-dozen friends and family members of the murder victim stared down Begay as he entered the courtroom Monday afternoon shackled and wearing a tan inmate uniform. Both Hatch’s mother and father repeatedly wiped tears from their eyes during the proceedings.