Prosecutor seeks to pierce TN shield law for ‘Dateline NBC’ interview

With a high-profile double killing as the backdrop, a Knox County judge is being asked to do something no appellate court in Tennessee’s history has ever approved — pierce the shield that protects journalists from disclosing information not yet published or aired.

Further from the News-Sentinel:

Criminal Court Judge Steve Sword heard arguments Thursday in a bid by prosecutors to force the television news magazine “Dateline NBC” to turn over video of an interview with double-killing suspect Norman Eugene Clark that has yet to be broadcast.

Clark, accompanied by defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs, gave the interview soon after a jury last year deadlocked with a vote of 11-1 to acquit him of charges he killed his pregnant girlfriend, Brittany Eldridge, 25, and their unborn son, Ezekiel, in December 2011. The state now seeks to retry him.

There is no indication Clark admitted to the killings, which he denies, and Deputy Assistant District Attorney General Kyle Hixson concedes prosecutors do not know whether Clark said anything in the interview that might be helpful to the prosecution in what is an entirely circumstantial case against him.

Hixon also agrees Tennessee’s press shield law has been tough enough to withstand all appellate reviews. The law protects journalists from being forced to reveal sources and information gathered as part of their duties and is designed to ensure the media can fulfill its watchdog function without fear of government interference.

But, Hixon argued Thursday, prior bids to pierce the shield involved “bad arguments” in which those seeking protected information failed to show a need so “compelling” as to overcome First Amendment guarantees. Not so in the Clark case, he argued.

“I don’t know what the bright line is, but I think when we’re talking about a double homicide case, purely circumstantial case, no other avenue to get this information, no other information … every piece of evidence is important,” Hixson said.