EUREKA — News media can have some, but not complete, access to the court records of a 9-year-old Goodfield boy charged with murder and arson, a Woodford County judge ruled Thursday.
Records in juvenile cases are kept private unless a judge rules otherwise. Juvenile hearings likewise are closed to the public, although media can attend.
Judge Charles Feeney said media can have access to the boy's delinquency case, but said records related to an abuse and neglect case would remain private.
“We go about the people’s business so the people have the right to be informed,” Feeney said.
The requests were made on behalf of the Chicago Tribune and news media within the 11th Judicial Circuit.
Ryan Denham of WGLT in Normal, who coordinates media courtroom coverage within the circuit, told the judge that access to the records would help reporters provide better and more accurate coverage, ultimately serving the community better.
Five people spoke against the request, including the boy's court-appointed public defender, Peter Dluski of Pekin; Eureka attorney Dan Harrod, who represents the boy's father; Eureka attorney Andrew Lankton; and State's Attorney Greg Minger.
They argued granting access to the media would not be in the best interest of the boy. Dluski said the negative impact “outweighs the media’s ability to write a story.”
The boy is accused of setting a fire that killed five people in a mobile home near Goodfield in April.
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The boy is charged with eight felony counts that include five counts of murder and three counts of arson.
The April 6 fire in the Timberline Trailer Court killed Kathryn Murray, 69; Jason Wall, 34; Rose Alwood, 2; Damaien Wall, 2; and Ariel Wall, 1. The boy was related to Murray and the children; Jason Wall was his mother's boyfriend.
The boy's mother, Katie Alwood, survived the fire. She since has given up her parental rights; the boy is staying with foster guardians who are related to his father, according to information previously shared in court hearings.
The boy, who is charged as a juvenile, is too young to be taken into custody. He is believed to be one of the youngest children charged with such serious crimes.
If the boy is convicted, Minger said the state likely would seek a term of probation.
The boy would not be jailed unless he fails to abide by the terms and conditions set forth in his sentencing.
Minger told the judge he anticipates filing some motions in the next few weeks that will likely require a lengthy hearing. The next court date is set for Nov. 22.