COLUMBIA — A local activist has been given permission to film court proceedings for a project he is pursuing on alleged misconduct in the prosecution of those involved in the Aaron Hobson case.
Matthew Akins, who created and runs a non-traditional media outlet called Citizens for Justice, said he is planning to do an "exposé" on how Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight and Columbia police handled the investigation and the prosecution of the defendants in the case.
Hobson, 22, was shot and killed in October 2010 at a Break Time convenience store on Nifong Boulevard. Eight suspects were arrested in the case; seven were convicted, though only two went to trial. One of those two, Tony Lewis, was acquitted earlier this month.
To make his documentary, Akins said he needs access to court footage, both by filming in court and by having access to footage filmed by other media outlets.
Akins said he made a request to KMIZ-TV for footage of Lewis' trial but was denied. Curtis Varns, news director at KMIZ, said the footage had already been deleted when Akins requested it.
According to a court rule, a media outlet must apply for permission to film in court. If it is granted permission, it must then provide that footage to all other media outlets that request it. Who qualifies as a media representative is not addressed in the rule.
Varns said that typically, footage is usually only shared on the day it is collected. But if Akins had requested the footage during Lewis' trial, he would still have been denied, Varns said, because the judge had not ruled that Citizens for Justice is a media outlet.
Until that happens, Varns said, he will follow the judge's directions on a case-by-case basis.
Judge Gary Oxenhandler allowed Akins to film the hearing of Tabisha Franklin, who faces a charge of driving with a revoked license, on Tuesday. Her attorney, public defender Justin Carver, has filed a motion alleging that Franklin has been the object of prosecutorial misconduct by Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight, who wanted Franklin to provide him with information on one or more of the Hobson cases. Akins is including Franklin's case and others in his documentary.
The permission the judge granted Akins was limited. According to CaseNet, Oxenhandler's decision does not mean that Citizens for Justice will be considered a part of the media in the future.
Akins said he was glad the judge allowed him to film.
"I appreciate that they let me film (Tuesday)," Akins said. "That shows that there's some level of them wanting to allow me to do this."
But he said he was still frustrated by the limitations.
Varns said the judge's ruling to allow Akins to film Tuesday's hearing had no bearing on whether he would provide Akins with footage in the future.
Allegations of misconduct
In the motion Carver filed Feb. 15, he alleges that Knight learned that Franklin might have had knowledge related to the Hobson slaying. After she refused to give information to the police and the prosecutor's office, Knight took action that resulted in a more serious charge for Franklin, according to the motion. That action was asking the City Prosecutor, Stephen Richey, to dismiss Franklin's misdemeanor charge for driving with a revoked license and transfer it to the Boone County Prosecutor's Office, where Franklin was charged with a felony for the same offense.
The motion alleges that Knight took similar action in another case relating to the Hobson murder.
Knight said he does not understand why Carver's motion names him instead of Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Roger Johnson, who is the prosecutor in Franklin's case.
Johnson said there is nothing legally wrong in transferring a case from a municipal court to a county court. He said Carver did not cite the law correctly in his motion and that Carver does not understand that the law allows for what the prosecutor did.
"People can file any kind of motion they want. It doesn't mean that it's true, it doesn't mean that it's legally sound," Johnson said. "But it takes tremendous resources on our part to prove to the court that it’s not."
He also noted that the safety of the community is at stake when the prosecutor's office seeks help from possible witnesses.
"Our ability to try to get cooperation from people is a serious public safety concern," Johnson said.
Oral arguments on Carver's motion were scheduled for Monday in Oxenhandler's court.