Judge considers sealing records in Landing murder case

Man accused of killing Chicago Bears fan inside restaurant

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A judge in a murder case of a man accused of slitting the throat of a Chicago Bears fan at the Jacksonville Landing in October heard arguments Wednesday about an open records request filed by Channel 4 and a defense motion to seal the court records.

Matthew Hinson faces a second-degree murder charge in the death of 42-year-old William "Chris" Pettry. Pettry, of Illinois, was visiting Jacksonville for the Bears-Jaguars game and was at Fionn MacCool's Irish Restaurant and Pub the night before.

Investigators said Hinson apparently became jealous and enraged when he saw his wife talking with Pettry at the restaurant. They said he "calmly and cold-bloodedly" cut Pettry's throat, then walked out and drove away.

Pettry (pictured, below) was a father of three young children.

"The bottom line, can an impartial jury be seated for trial," Channel 4 attorney Ed Birk said.

While Pettry's widow claims she's only receiving timely information on the case from news media, Hinson's defense team wants discovery materials kept out of sight from the media.

The chief assistant public defender says it's the way to make sure Hinson gets a fair trial.

"We're concerned with tainting the jury pool and venue issues," Hinson's attorney, Refik Eler, said. "We're concerned with, once you ring that bell, you can't un-ring it. Once you taint them, it makes it that much harder for Mr. Hinson to receive a fair trial."

Hinson's lawyer told the court there's been too much reporting of the case already.

The state's prosecutor said he's formally staying neutral, but he thinks there's probably merit to the motion to seal the records.

"There's already been significant amount of press on this. It continues to be of great interest as evidenced by public records requests obtained and recorded," Eler siad.

Eler gave 21 specific examples, but Birk said that does not meet the burden to say it's excessive media coverage.

"No, not at all," Birk said. "I mean, you can go to the Internet any day, search one news story, and you'll get dozens, if not hundreds of hits."

Another attorney argued to keep the records open, and Birk said he's hopeful.

"So sealing the records is expedient, it's easy, but it's not the right, nor lawful thing to do," Birk said.

Judge Suzanne Bass said she'd take the 10 days allowed to review the motions and make a decision. In the meantime, Hinson is scheduled to appear again for a status hearing Feb. 20.

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