A Fauquier County judge ruled Thursday, March 5 that the court proceedings involving Levi Norwood, the teen charged in the fatal shootings of his mother and brother, will remain closed for now, despite a Feb. 26 motion from the Washington Post to open them to the public.
Levi Norwood, 17, has been charged with two counts of murder in the Feb. 14 shooting deaths of his mother, Jennifer Norwood, and his 6-year-old brother Wyatt at their Midland home. The teen has also been charged with shooting his father, Joshua Norwood, 37.
The elder Norwood said he escaped from the house at about 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, after he was shot in the forehead and had found the bodies of his wife and youngest son.
Fauquier County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge Melissa N. Cupp ruled Thursday that Norwood’s defense attorney Ryan Ruzic showed “good cause” to keep Norwood’s hearings closed. Ruzic and Commonwealth’s Attorney Scott Hook filed a motion Feb. 27 in response to the one from the Washington Post.
Cupp added, however, that the teen’s hearings might be open sometime in the future.
“This court or another court may not find such restrictions are necessary as the case progresses to preliminary hearing or trial,” she wrote.
Cupp also said the court has not yet been told whether Hook or Levi Norwood will request that the teen’s detention hearing, set for Monday, March 9, will be open or closed.
“Mr. Norwood, having been advised of his right to a public hearing, may take the position that the next hearing should be open to the public,” she wrote.
Normally, cases heard in juvenile and domestic relations court are not recorded or transcribed. In this case, however, Cupp ordered that a court reporter should be present at all future hearings “so that in the event a future hearing is ordered closed, any party or intervenor can seek review of said order and request the release of the transcripts.”
The Feb. 26 Washington Post motion asked the court to open Norwood’s court proceedings to the public, arguing that the juvenile court improperly closed Norwood’s Feb. 24 hearing.
The Post claimed that closing the proceeding violated the First Amendment of both the U.S. and Virginia constitutions. The Post’s motion further asserted that Virginia Code 16.1-302 states: “Proceedings in cases involving an adult charged with a crime and hearings held on a petition or warrant alleging that a juvenile 14 years of age or older committed an offense, which would be a felony if committed by an adult, shall be open.”
Ruzic, at the Feb. 24 hearing said the proceedings should remain closed to maintain the privacy of the juvenile defendant.
“The motion makes mention of a catharsis for the community,” Ruzic said, before arguing that the case has already appeared extensively in the press, and the alleged crime was “not a matter for public consumption.”
He added that the shootings did not take place in a public place and were confined to one family.
Ruzic further stated that in a small community like Fauquier, keeping the proceedings closed would be necessary to protect the pool of jurors from being compromised, and to protect any potential witnesses who are younger than 18. Hook agreed with the defense attorney.
Cupp explained in her March 5 order that these reasons represented “good cause” for keeping the hearings closed.
Reach Robin Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org