OTTAWA — Attorneys for Travis Soto — the Napoleon man facing an aggravated murder charge with capital punishment implications in Putnam County for the 2006 death of his young son — have filed motions to ban the press from pre-trial hearings in the case and to prevent the media from photographing Soto.
Those recommendations, filed Aug. 3 along with nearly a dozen other motions by defense attorneys William Kluge and Robert Grzybowski, are being challenged by The Lima News, with support from the Ohio Coalition for Open Government.
Soto has been at the forefront of the criminal justice system in Putnam County since 2006, when he told the police he had accidentally killed his young son, Julio, in an all-terrain vehicle accident. He pleaded guilty to child endangering and served a five-year prison sentence. In 2016, after completing his sentence, Soto confessed to beating his son to death.
He was indicted in Putnam County on a charge of aggravated murder, but his attorneys argued the indictment violated their client’s constitutional protection against double-jeopardy. After the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the murder charge against Soto was not a violation of his legal rights, the case advanced all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case, effectively returning it to the Putnam County court.
Soto’s attorneys, William Kluge and Robert Grzybowski, last month filed more than a dozen motions with the court. Some dealt with routine matters, but two in particular were viewed by media outlets as unreasonable in their attempt to curtail public participation and press coverage of the hearings leading up to Soto’s trial as well as during the trial itself.
In a motion to close pre-trial hearings to the media, Soto’s attorneys claim any dissemination of pre-trial information would “taint prospective jurors by imparting information about this case that would impair their neutrality during trial.”
The Ohio Coalition for Open Government — a non-profit corporation that actively seeks the enforcement of the state’s “sunshine laws” related to open records and open meetings — argued in a court filing that the defendant’s motion to close the proceedings “falls far short of the high standard for closure” in established case law and asked the court to reject the motion.
In seeking to prevent the media from photographing Soto while in the courtroom, Kluge and Grzybowski argued that because their client will be a witness at his own trial, he is afforded the same opportunity as most other witnesses to request his likeness not be captured.
The Coalition for Open Government says the motion “lacks a legal basis under Ohio law” and is contrary to existing case law as established by the Ohio Supreme Court.
An attorney for AIM Media Midwest, the parent company of The Lima News, wrote the Ohio Rule of Superintendence “expressly permits the broadcasting or recording by electronic means and the taking of photographs in court proceedings and the defendant has identified no valid authority for restricting that express permission…”
A hearing on all the defense motions is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sept. 17 before Judge Keith Schierloh.