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Defendant’s tattoos not off-limits

Judge tosses defense request to restrict media coverage

POSTED: March 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Tom Reed/The Times

Allan Robert Dickie in court last December.

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Members of the news media reporting on the death penalty case of Allan Robert Dickie will not be prohibited from describing Dickie’s tattoos, a judge has ruled.

Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal this week denied a defense motion asking the court to restrict news media from reporting on Dickie’s tattoos, in particular a tattoo across his forehead that reads "IT," in inch-high letters, preceded by a four-letter profanity. The tattoo was made at some point after Dickie, 19, was jailed in connection with the Aug. 26 kidnapping, sexual assault and stabbing death of 37-year-old Claudia Toppin. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case.

Defense attorneys for Dickie contended in a motion for restrictive order filed Dec. 5 that news stories published in The Times mentioning the tattoo were "prejudicial in the extreme" to any potential jurors who might read the reports.

Three news articles noted the tattoo before The Times, through its legal counsel, agreed in a consent order to refrain from reporting on it until Deal ruled on the defense motion.

Attorney David Dunaway argued on behalf of the newspaper in a Dec. 31 hearing, saying that any order by the judge dictating what The Times could or could not report would constitute what is known in legal terms as "prior restraint" and that "any prior restraint such as this ... comes to the court with a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity."

In his order, Deal agreed, saying "the defendant has failed to overcome the heavy presumption against prior restraint and has failed to show no alternatives ... would sufficiently mitigate the adverse effects of pretrial publicity."

Those alternatives, according to The Times’ attorney, could include questioning of potential jurors about their knowledge of the case and any potential biases, instructions to jurors that they should consider the case based solely on the evidence presented in court, and, if necessary, a change of venue or selection of jurors from another county.

Doug Ramseur, one of two attorneys with the Office of the Georgia Capital Defender representing Dickie, told Deal during a pretrial hearing Wednesday that he would appeal the ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court. The judge denied a request to stay his order pending the appeal.

Deal suggested in his order that the defense could use makeup or "other reasonable means to shield (the tattoo) from the jury’s view at all times."

Dickie’s tattoo remained visible during Wednesday’s hearing, though it was partially obscured by his hair.

No trial date has been set in the case. The court must decide on numerous pretrial matters before it can be scheduled for trial.

Dennis Stockton, publisher of The Times, said in a statement, "While we appreciate the seriousness of Mr. Dickie’s case, we also think it is vitally important that judicial proceedings remain open to public review and feel that any attempt at stopping the media from covering certain elements of a trial in advance violate the basic tenants of a free press and open judicial system.

"We presented what we felt was a strong argument that the court should not restrict media coverage as requested by the defense, and thankfully the judge concurred with our positions," Stockton said. "It is never our intent to sensationalize coverage of any element of an arrest or trial, but we do have an obligation to report on those things we feel to be newsworthy, and we think we have done so in a responsible manner."



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