WASHINGTON -- Turning aside an appeal by the state of Maryland in a child sex abuse case, the Supreme Court refused yesterday to clarify judges' power to exclude individual spectators from the courtroom during a trial.
Without comment, the justices left intact a ruling in May by the Maryland Court of Appeals that it is unconstitutional to exclude relatives of the accused person from a part of the trial, unless persuasive reasons are given for doing so.
During the trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court of Johnny Walker of Baltimore, prosecutors asked that Walker's family be kept out of the courtroom while two girls -- 17 and 12 -- testified against him.
Walker was on trial for child abuse and second-degree sexual offense against the girls, and prosecutors contended that the two girls would be intimidated because Walker's relatives had discussed aspects of the case with them.
The judge agreed, and the relatives were excluded during the girls' testimony.
Walker was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. But the state Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, finding that the trial judge had not offered sufficient justification for excluding the family members and had violated Walker's constitutional rights, requiring a new trial.
Pub Date: 1/12/99