Judge closes court hearing for boy who allegedly killed dog near Carbondale

The Aspen Times: A judge ordered a closed hearing Wednesday for a 13-year-old boy who made his second appearance in Garfield County Court associated with allegations he shot a dog to death on the private property of a family outside of Carbondale in January.

District Judge Paul Metzger said it would be in the “best interest” of the juvenile to prevent members of the public, including the media, from attending the hearing.

His decision came after public defender Elise Myer, the defendant’s counsel, renewed her motion to close the court to parties not directly associated with the case. Myer sought the same consideration at the defendant’s first court appearance related to the dog-killing Feb. 14, but Metzger kept the hearing open to the public at that time.

“I’d just like to say for a variety of reasons, I felt that an open and transparent hearing at that time would be appropriate,” Metzger said. But for the purposes of Wednesday’s hearing, the judge said he would keep it closed.

Myer referred to a Colorado statute pertaining to public access to juvenile criminal court proceedings, which states: “The general public shall not be excluded unless the court determines that it is in the best interest of the child or of the community to exclude the general public, and, in such event, the court shall admit only such persons as have an interest in the case or the work of the court, including persons whom the district attorney, the county or city attorney, the child, or the parents, guardian, or other custodian of the child wish to be present.”

The Aspen Times contested the decision, providing Metzger, Myer and prosecutor Tony Hershey with copies of a Colorado Supreme Court order from February 2013 reversing a lower court’s decision to close a preliminary hearing for Austin Reed Sigg, who was 17 years old at the time. The high court said the judge closed the hearing without making “specific findings demonstrating a substantial probability that the defendant’s right to a fair trial will be prejudiced by publicity that closure would prevent and that reasonable alternatives to closure cannot adequately protect the defendant’s fair trial rights.”

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