An Horry County Circuit Court judge said Thursday he needed to study case law further before he could determine if he had jurisdiction to decide on the release of evidence recovered during a search in the Heather Elvis disappearance.
Judge Steven John questioned why lawyers for Waccamaw Publishing and The Sun News had not first argued their case before the magistrate who denied the request for information related to the search of Sidney and Tammy Moorer’s property.
Magistrate Aaron Butler issued a written refusal to release the information, saying it “could jeopardize the ongoing investigation.”
“How can I have a hearing to deal with anything when there has been no order?” John asked during Thursday’s hearing.
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Jay Bender, attorney for the South Carolina Press Association, told John that they considered the magistrate’s written refusal an order from the judge and sought relief from that order through the circuit court.
Heather Elvis, 20, was reported missing Dec. 19, 2013. The Moorers were indicted in March on charges of murder, kidnapping, obstruction of justice and indecent exposure. Elvis’s body has not been found.
Shortly after the indictment, Judge John issued a gag order barring prosecutors, defense attorneys or their staffs and members of law enforcement who have investigated the case, to publicly speak about it.
Bender said the right of access to the information is guaranteed by the S.C. Constitution “to provide the public an opportunity to review proceedings of its public institutions ... to have confidence that the system is working as it should.”
Henrietta Golding, who represents Butler, said the written response from the magistrate “cannot be considered a judgment,” and is not subject to the jurisdiction of the circuit court.
John was unable to research the cases cited by the two sides because the statewide judicial computer system was down. He said he would rule after considering their arguments. It is unclear how long that will take.