Gag order lifted on former students’ sexual assault case

Pretrial proceedings in the sexual assault case involving three former TCU athletes will once again be held in open court.That’s because a gag order in the case was lifted Wednesday morning by the judge who issued it last week.

Judge Wayne Salvant of Tarrant County Criminal District Court No. 2 vacated the order at the request of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram during a special hearing Wednesday.

The order closed pretrial hearings and prohibited journalists from reporting what went on in those proceedings. It also prohibited anybody from talking to the media about anything related to the trial and barred the photography of jurors or potential jurors.

The Star-Telegram filed a motion Friday asking Salvant to lift the order calling it overbroad and unconstitutional.

The order was requested Thursday by Gwynda Burns, an attorney for one of the defendants, Virgil Allen Taylor, 19. Burns cited “extensive coverage in the media” in her motion requesting the order and wrote she planned to present evidence that might prohibit the defendants from finding an impartial jury.

Taylor, Shannon Monroe Behling, 19, and Lorenzo Labell Jones, 20, are charged in the case with sexually assaulting a freshman female TCU student in a Moncrief Hall dorm room, according to police records.

The student who reported the assault told police she was invited to Taylor’s room so Taylor could repay her $8 he owed her, according to an arrest affidavit. After arriving in Taylor’s room, the female student told police she was given a sports drink that incapacitated her and was sexually assaulted, according to the affidavit.

Mike Hiestand, an attorney and legal consultant at the Student Press Law Center, said the gag order’s broad nature made it unusual.

“It’s pretty unbelievable really,” Hiestand said. “I’d never seen an order quite so broad.”

Prosecutor Betty Arvin of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office said the order didn’t affect what the district attorney’s office told the media anyway.

“Even though the order is lifted, the gag order just set out the ethical obligations that we are under anyway,” she said.

The district attorney’s office normally only talks to the media about information contained in public records, Arvin said.

Jones’ attorney, Marcus Norman, declined to comment on the gag order or the pending case.

Burns and Behling’s attorney, Glynis McGinty, didn’t return calls to their offices Wednesday.