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People v. Slover

July 19, 2001

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF
v.
MICHAEL SLOVER, SR., MICHAEL SLOVER, JR., AND JEANETTE SLOVER, DEFENDANTS
MICHAEL SLOVER, SR., MICHAEL SLOVER, JR., AND JEANETTE SLOVER, PETITIONERS-APPELLEES AND CROSS-APPELLANTS
v.
THE DECATUR HERALD & REVIEW AND PEGGY BELLOWS, EDITOR, RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS AND CROSS-APPELLEES



Appeal from Circuit Court of Macon County No. 00CF140 Honorable James A. Hendrian, Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht

UNPUBLISHED

The State charged defendants, Michael Slover, Jr., Michael Slover, Sr., and Jeanette Slover, with the first degree murder of Karyn Slover. Michael Slover, Jr., served a subpoena duces tecum upon respondent Peggy Bellows, as editor of respondent Decatur Herald & Review (Herald). After respondents refused to produce unpublished photographs as ordered by the trial court, the trial court cited Bellows for indirect civil contempt and sentenced her to jail, which sentence was stayed pending appeal. Respondents appeal, claiming the photographs are protected by a reporter's privilege. We reverse and remand with directions.

I. BACKGROUND

In January 2000, a grand jury indicted defendants for first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1), (a)(2) (West 1996)) based on the September 1996 homicide of Karyn Slover, and indicted Michael Slover, Jr., and Michael Slover, Sr., for concealing a homicidal death (720 ILCS 5/9-3.1(a) (West 1996)) and Michael Slover, Jr., for perjury (720 ILCS 5/32-2(a) (West 1998)) for a June 1999 false statement under oath in Slover v. Slover, No. 96-D-291 (Cir. Ct. Macon Co.).

In June 2000, counsel for Michael Slover, Jr., caused a subpoena duces tecum to be issued to persons employed at eight media organizations, including Sharon Reynolds, a librarian with the Herald. The subpoena issued to Reynolds commanded her to produce specified items in her custody, including:

"all edited and unedited, published and unpublished, broadcasted and not broadcasted, photographs and moving picture or video depictions concerning the disappearance, dismemberment, concealment and/or death of Karyn Hearn Slover, including the investigation and prosecutions relative thereto, for the period of 9/27/96 to present."

When Reynolds refused to produce unpublished photographs as ordered, Michael Slover, Jr., petitioned for a rule to show cause as to why she should not be held in contempt. Reynolds objected to the subpoena, asserting a qualified reporter's privilege based on section 8-901 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/8-901 (West 1998)) and the free press guaranties in the federal constitution (U.S. Const., amend. I) and the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §4).

In August 2000, the trial court held a hearing on the petition for a rule to show cause. Counsel for Michael Slover, Jr., represented the following to the trial court. Beginning in October 1996, police conducted a series of search warrants at the Miracle Motors automobile dealership in Mount Zion owned by Michael Slover, Sr., and Jeanette Slover. In executing a search warrant on March 10, 1998, police allegedly found in "burn barrels" some buttons from jeans worn by Karyn Slover at the time of her death. Police also allegedly recovered some bone fragments from the property at that time. Prior to that search, police brought a bone or box of meat near the property, where it was cut up for comparison purposes. None of the photographs obtained by the defense through discovery or its independent investigation showed these activities. Counsel for Michael Slover, Jr., also stated he wanted unpublished photographs depicting the search warrants being executed through March 10, 1998, specifically those showing burn barrels. Defense counsel speculated about reasons why the alleged incriminating evidence could not have gone undetected for 16 months in spite of multiple police searches at the property.

Following argument, the trial court took the matter under advisement. In August 2000, the trial court found the unpublished photographs were not privileged and found Reynolds in indirect civil contempt for refusing to deliver all unpublished photographs concerning the murder investigation. The trial court allowed Reynolds to "purge herself of the contempt finding by delivering all referenced photographs to the [c]court for an in camera review to determine the existence of any photographs as heretofore described by defense counsel." In September 2000, Michael Slover, Jr., filed a motion to reconsider.

In September 2000, the trial court held a sentencing hearing, at which the trial court allowed Bellows to be substituted as the subject of its order. Bellows waived service of summons. Bellows respectfully declined to produce unpublished photographs and requested a sentence in the trial court's discretion to enable her to appeal the trial court's order. The trial court sentenced Bellows to the Macon County jail pending compliance and stayed the sentence pending appeal. The trial court allowed Michael Slover, Jr., to withdraw his motion to reconsider, and the trial court allowed Michael Slover, Sr., and Jeanette Slover to join in Michael Slover, Jr.'s motion to produce unpublished photographs. Respondents appealed.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Reporter's Privilege

In Illinois, reporters have a statutory, qualified privilege protecting their sources, whether confidential or non-confidential, from compelled disclosure. People v. Palacio, 240 Ill. App. 3d 1078, 1091, 607 N.E.2d 1375, 1383 (1993). This statutory privilege, also known as the reporter's privilege, is found in section 8-901 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/8-901 (West 1998)), which states, "[n]o court may compel any ...


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