SUNBURY — A Northumberland County judge will hear arguments Friday on whether a Sunbury newspaper reporter must testify about his interview of a woman charged with working with her husband to kill a man she met through Craigslist.
Community Newspaper Group, owner of The Daily Item, has asked Northumberland County Judge Charles H. Saylor to quash subpoenas requiring Francis Scarcella to appear at pretrial proceedings for Miranda K. Barbour, scheduled Tuesday and May 6.
Barbour, 19, and her husband Elytte, 22, are charged with criminal homicide and related counts related to the Nov. 11 homicide of Troy LaFerrara in Sunbury. One of the issues for the May 6 hearing is a defense motion to suppress certain statements made by Miranda Barbour during a Feb. 14 prison interview with Scarcella.
It was during that interview that Miranda Barbour claimed she had killed at least 22 people in five states. The interview was the basis of an article published in the Daily Item the next day.
The newspaper contends the First Amendment protects reporters like Scarcella from being forced to testify and in this particular case, it argues that others can verify the content of interview, which was recorded by the prison.
Scarcella was not permitted to take any recording device or notepad to the interview, which was conducted in the prison visiting room and recorded via the public intercom system, the newspaper says. The reporter later was permitted to listen to the recording and make notes.
Forcing Scarcella to testify takes him out of the role of a neutral observer, which is the role of a reporter, the newspaper argues in court documents.
District Attorney Anthony J. Rosini cannot show Scarcella’s testimony is required to insure a conviction and requiring the reporter to comply with the subpoenas would seriously interfere with his newsgathering practices, the brief states.
But in an email to the lawyer representing the newspaper, Rosini claims the only reason the interview was approved was that Scarcella represented he was visiting Barbour as a friend, not as a reporter.
Rosini further claims Pennsylvania law and court decisions do not provide protection for a confession given to a reporter by a defendant in a homicide case.
The Barbours are being held without bail. She has been transferred to the State Correction Institution at Muncy while he is in the Northumberland County Prison.