The case of the man accused of killing two young girls in Delphi promises to be the highest profile trial Indiana has seen in at least a decade.
And Richard Allen’s murder trial could be one of the first in Indiana to be viewed by millions worldwide under a new rule that will allow cameras in Indiana courtrooms.
Starting May 1, the Indiana Supreme Court is giving judges the authority to decide whether to allow cameras in their courtrooms, ending a near-total ban that goes back to the dawn of television.
Allen's trial was delayed last month and a new date has not yet been set, which means it will begin after the new camera rule takes effect.
Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush said people should have the chance to see how justice works in our state.
“We have 2.8 million cases pending in Indiana courts right now and those cases involve every facet of Hoosier life,” Rush told WRTV during a recent interview at the Indiana Supreme Court’s Law Library. “For people to trust the courts, I think they need to know what's going on in the courtrooms.”
Three decades in the making
For Daniel Byron, this change is the culmination of 30 years worth of work.
As the lawyer for the Indiana Broadcasters Association, the 85-year-old Byron has been one of the people leading the fight to bring Indiana in line with 48 other states that allow cameras in court.
“So now there is only one state in the union and that is Louisiana, and we are free from them,” Byron said. “I'm very pleased.”
The beginning and end of cameras in court
Not long after the first black-and-white televisions started becoming common in American homes, video cameras have been allowed in Indiana courts in very limited circumstances.
The earliest case in the WRTV archives was the high-profile 1959 trial of Minnie B. "Connie" Nicholas, a woman accused of killing her lover, Eli Lily executive Forrest Teel.
Marion County Criminal Court Judge Thomas J. Faulconer made national headlines when he allowed television cameras to film the sensational murder trial. The closely watched trial captivated the public for its salacious testimony involving a wealthy victim and an illicit affair.
WRTV cameras were rolling when the foreman of the all-white and all-male jury announced: "We the jury find the defendant Connie Nicholas guilty of manslaughter."
Nicholas was sentenced to a term of 2 to 21 years.
A dead heiress and wads of cash
In 1978, our cameras were again in court for the murder trial of Howard Willard, a man accused of killing wealthy grocery store heiress Marjorie Jackson inside her Spring Mill Road home.
Jackson, convinced someone at the bank was stealing from her, had been withdrawing large sums of cash and stashing in bundles around her home.
Willard and another man were accused of killing her and setting fire to her home. There was so much money that the killers couldn't take it all. Police found Jackson's body and millions of dollars left behind in the house.
Willard was found guilty of the murder.
Marion County Judge John Wilson allowed TV cameras to cover the trial. The Indiana Supreme Court stepped in and filming abruptly came to a halt after just one week.
"At the time I said 'I think I'm 50 years ahead of my time,'" Wilson, 87, said during an interview at his Brown County home.
Wilson said he believed the public should be allowed to see what happened in the Willard trial. The high-profile case had captivated the public, so he allowed the cameras.
"It was such an unusual murder, that it had national attention," Wilson said. “I was trying to improve the system for everybody, that’s why I wanted it to be national."
Indianapolis defense attorney Jim Voyles was Willard's lawyer and recalled the trial. Voyles didn't like the cameras then and still doesn't today.
"They were kind of disruptive in terms of the cameraman by our defense table and I got into it with the cameraman about being a little obtrusive," Voyles recalled.
"I just thought that ... it would be a little disruptive for the people to be in the courtroom and then broadcasting that information out. It just didn't feel right to me."
The cameras also disturbed someone with the authority to stop them. Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Givan issued a ban that ended the experiment with cameras in court.
His order evolved into the rule that banned cameras in court for decades.
But everything changes on May 1.
Cameras coming to Indiana courts
Chief Justice Rush said the decision to allow cameras comes after years of research that included two pilot projects that tested cameras in a handful of courtrooms.
Judges will have sweeping power over cameras they allow in their courts, under the new rule. They can set any conditions on the filming they deem appropriate. They can deny cameras altogether or stop filming after its begun at any time and for any reason.
"They know their communities, they know their justice partners, they know their prosecutors, they know their attorneys, public defenders, and a lot of times they know the families," Chief Justice Rush said. "We (judges) are able to balance out those (different parties and concerns)."
There are limits on cameras spelled out in the rule. Juveniles are not to be filmed in court; neither are victims of violence, sex crimes or domestic abuse.
Only broadcast and print media and their professional associations can use cameras in court. Members of the general public, including independent bloggers, are not allowed under the rule.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys may object to the cameras, but the final say rests with the judge. Rush said she hopes to see cameras become common in our courts.
"The judicial branch is the least understood branch of government," Chief Justice Rush said,. "And here you've got millions of Hoosiers counting on it for justice every year in Indiana. So why not pull the curtains out and say, 'OK, this is what we're doing and this is why we're doing it.' The sky is not going to fall, since there are safeguards in place."
Cameras and the Delphi murder trial
The decision on whether to allow cameras in the trial of murder suspect Richard Allen rests on the shoulders of Special Judge Fran Gull.
Allen is charged with two counts of murder in the 2017 deaths of Liberty German, 14, and Abigail Williams, 13.
The case has already seen intense national media coverage.
There's a gag order barring parties from talking about the case outside of court, which means the only time the prosecutors or defense lawyers can speak about the case publicly is when they are in court.
In the past, words said in court would be heard by reporters and relayed to the public. After May 1, the judge has the power to let cameras broadcast those words through television, cable and social media sites.
Gull is perhaps better suited than most other judges in Indiana to make this decision. She has experience. Her Allen County courtroom was one of the five that took part in Indiana's most recent pilot program that tested cameras for four months in 2021.
"The participants may see a camera on them and go... you know, people act foolish sometimes," Gull told WPTA-TV in Fort Wayneat the beginning of the pilot program in December 2021. "But I think the solemnity of the proceedings, the solemnity of the room that we are in currently, will counteract that."
Gull told the Indiana Supreme Court that cameras in her court were "unobtrusive."
"The media has been patient with delays in the hearings, and… has been unobtrusive and accommodating of the sheriff’s security concerns regarding camera placement," Gull said of the program, according to a March 24, 2022, article in Indiana Court Times.
Gull hasn't made a decision about cameras for the Allen trial, but WRTV and other media outlets are poised to make the request. His trial date, previously set to begin last month, has been delayed with no new date scheduled. Jurors for Allen's trial will be selected from Allen County.
Hearings in Allen's case are scheduled for June 15-16. It's up to Gull whether cameras will be present for that hearing.
Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @vicryc.