St. Louis judge bars Post-Dispatch publication in murder case

The Post-Dispatch has called upon a St. Louis judge to dissolve an order barring the paper from publishing mental health information about accused murderer Thomas Kinworthy. Kinworthy, 46, is accused of killing officer Tamarris Bohannon on August 29, 2020 at a house on Hartford Avenue.

Joseph E. Martineau, representing the Post-Dispatch, called St. Louis Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hogan’s order blocking publication a “classic prior restraint.”

Prior restraints are highly disfavored under the First Amendment and only permitted in the most extreme cases where disclosure of national security secrets poses an imminent threat to national security. 

Photo by Paul Sableman via Flickr

Half a century ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Pentagon Papers case that President Richard M. Nixon could not block publication of 40-plus volumes of classified secrets about the Vietnam War.

In the current case, Post-Dispatch reporter Katie Kull obtained information about Kinworthy’s mental health evaluation in a public court filing. The mental health evaluation had been mistakenly added to the public record. 

Martineau wrote that, “When information has been obtained legally from a public proceeding or document, the United States Supreme Court and appellate courts around the country have consistently rejected any restraint on publication.”

He noted that the Supreme Court had ruled in 1989 that a reporter for the Florida Star could not be sued for publishing the name of a rape victim even though state law made it illegal to publish the name. Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote then that absent a “state interest of the highest order,” the newspaper could not be punished for the publication of lawfully obtained truthful information.

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