Supreme Court: Trial judge must open hearing for teen accused of killing Jessica Ridgeway

Trial Judge had closed hearing to public

DENVER - The Colorado Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a Jefferson County judge to open the preliminary hearing for a teen accused of killing a 10-year-old Westminster girl and attacking a jogger.

The preliminary hearing for 18-year-old Austin Sigg is scheduled for Friday morning at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Sigg is accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway in October and of attacking a female jogger.

District Court Judge Stephen Munsinger had taken the unusual action of ordering the preliminary hearing closed to the public and news organizations, saying he wanted to ensure a fair trial and to protect the privacy of victims and their families.

During a preliminary hearing, the prosecution will present evidence in the Ridgeway case and the judge will decide whether the evidence is sufficient to make Sigg stand trial.

Steven D. Zansberg, an attorney representing 7NEWS and other news organizations, appealed the hearing closure to the Supreme Court. In a document filed Tuesday, Zansberg argued that a prosecutor had already said in open court that Sigg allegedly confessed to killing Ridgeway.

Munsinger also asked the Supreme Court to clarify legal standards for such a closing.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court wrote, "The court finds that the district court has ordered the defendant's preliminary hearing closed without making specific findings demonstrating a substantial probability that the defendant's right to a fair trial will be prejudiced by publicity that closure would prevent and that reasonable alternatives to closure cannot adequately protect the defendant's fair trial rights."

The justices then vacated the trial judge's order closing the hearing.

"We are pleased by today's decision reaffirming the public's right, under the U.S. Constitution, to attend hearings in criminal cases," Zansberg said. "The Court has vacated the order closing the preliminary hearing and declared that it cannot be closed without complying with the stringent standards of the First Amendment."