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Judge denies camera request for murder trial

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Cameras will not be allowed during court proceedings for a man charged with three counts of capital murder in Grayson County.

Roanoke television station WDBJ 7 filed a motion in Grayson County District Court last month requesting permission to cover Frederick P. Hammer’s hearings and trial with video cameras.

Hammer, 48, was arrested Jan. 26 in connection with the shooting deaths two days earlier of Ronald Hudler, 74, of Mouth of Wilson; his son, Fred Hudler, 45; and tree farm worker John Miller Jr., 25.

Electronic recording devices are not normally permitted in a courtroom, but in high profile cases — as recently as the William Morva murder trial in Abingdon — a judge may allow the media to use cameras, voice recorders and/or other electronic devices.

On Monday, District Court Judge Randal Duncan denied WDBJ’s motion. Hammer was present at the hearing.

Grayson Commonwealth Attorney Douglas Vaught said that, while the trial is public and open to anyone, having cameras in the courtroom was “not in our best interest.”

Vaught said the increase in news coverage of the preliminary hearing — set for Aug. 4 at 1 p.m. — would make it more difficult to seat a jury.

“It would simply prejudice the jury pool,” Vaught said. “So we would ask to not allow it.”

Jonathon Venzie — one of four defense attorneys for Hammer — agreed with Vaught. “We have had limited experience with [camera’s in the courtroom]. But, it has not been a pleasant experience.”

He added that information about the case that has already come out in the newspapers and on television is “troublesome enough,” and that the information released in the preliminary hearing could potentially bias even more people in the community.

Venzie also argued that, since the entire proceedings could not be shown, it was a one-sided view in which only the most sensational parts of the trial would be shown, such as someone having an emotional outburst.

Venzie remembered one instance in which cameras were allowed in the Grayson County courtroom. “It was like having an 800-pound gorilla in the corner.”