Guam Judiciary Prepares For Trial Of Chad De Soto

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Court wants to balance foreign media coverage, defendant’s rights

By Cameron Miculka

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, August 7, 2013) – As a trial for the man accused of attacking tourists in Tumon this past February draws nearer, the Guam Judiciary is preparing for the influx of foreign media to the island.

Following Chad De Soto's arrest, 20 foreign media outlets requested access to court hearings.

The result was a courtroom packed with reporters and cameras, resulting in the court requiring that the media groups share video from a single camera.

But with a trial drawing closer, the court is working to balance public access to the courts with judicial efficiency and the rights of the defendant.

"Our priority is to maintain decorum in the courtroom so that the matter can be advanced," said Joshua Tenorio, court director of policy, planning and community relations.

Tenorio recognized the level of public interest in the case, both locally and abroad, but noted the importance of making sure that "due process is delivered."

"That's definitely a concern for the judge and attorneys," he added.

Tenorio said the courts are attempting to be as proactive as possible when it comes to accommodating foreign media.

For example, he said the courts produced handouts for foreign media reporters explaining the American justice system, thereby providing more information immediately, rather than responding to a slew of requests.

"Educating them about the justice system was a very positive thing," he said.

Tenorio said another issue comes down to the courtroom's capacity.

"It's going to be a very controlled situation," he said. "We have to make considerations for all parties of interest: the victims, the defendant, the prosecutors’ side, the media -- and then there's the general public."

Hearing tomorrow

De Soto is expected to appear in court tomorrow before Judge Anita Sukola for the first time since May.

At the most recent hearing, Sukola heard a motion to allow an expert witness to testify about De Soto's psychiatric evaluation.

Following his indictment, De Soto pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental illness.

Because of the confidential nature of that evaluation, the motion's hearing was closed to the public.

Members of the media and the public were allowed back into the court following that hearing, though, Sukola simply said she was taking the matter into consideration and would issue a ruling on it soon.

Since that hearing, there has been little activity in the case except for a request from the public defender's office for a copy of the grand jury transcript.

That transcript is a copy of the presentation prosecutors made to the island's grand jury when they sought an indictment for De Soto.

It isn't certain when a trial in De Soto's case is expected to begin.

Charges

De Soto is accused of hitting people in Tumon with a car the night of Feb. 12, then stabbing bystanders with a knife outside the Outrigger Guam Resort after crashing the car into an ABC Store.

Two Japanese tourists, 81-year-old Kazuko Uehara and her 28-year-old granddaughter, Rie Sugiyama, died from stab wounds later that night.

Another tourist, 51-year old Hitoshi Yokota, died two days later from injuries he sustained when he was hit by a car.

Under Guam law, defendants are allowed to plead "not guilty" and "not guilty by reason of mental illness" at the same time.

Simply pleading "not guilty" rules out the ability to use any sort of insanity defense, according to local law.

And only stating you are not guilty because of mental illness "admits by implication the commission of the offenses charged," according to Guam law.

De Soto was indicted on three counts of aggravated murder and 11 counts of attempted aggravated murder following his arrest.

If convicted of any of the aggravated murder charges, De Soto faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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