When the Kenan Gay trial opens, cameras will not be allowed in the courtroom, at least at the start.
Superior Court Judge Forrest Bridges made the ruling as jury selection began Monday morning in the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. Gay faces a second-degree murder charge in connection with the March 2012 death of Robert “Rob” Kingston.
Both men had been drinking that night at Ed’s Tavern, a Dilworth bar, when Kingston, an employee of the Charlotte Bobcats, tried to kiss Gay’s girlfriend, Liz Wicker, now his wife. Surveillance video played in the courtroom last week appears to show Kingston putting his hands on Wicker’s rear. Gay, a former walk-on football player at UNC Chapel Hill, then grabbed Kingston by the collar and pushed him out of the bar.
The criminal case will hinge on what happened next.
Prosecution witnesses say Gay forcefully shoved Kingston into Park Road, where he was struck almost immediately by a passing car. Gay ran from the scene but was found 10 minutes later a few blocks from the bar.
But Gay’s defense team of David Rudolf and Sonya Pfeiffer say their client was protecting his girlfriend from a “dangerously intoxicated” Kingston. They say Kingston’s death was a “tragic accident” but that Gay is not guilty of any crime.
Prosecutors say Gay, a member of a prominent Sanford family and a Charlotte School of Law student at the time of his arrest, used deadly force leading up to Kingston’s death.
The defendant led a group of 15 family members and friends into court Monday morning.
Kingston’s parents also were on hand, slipping into the back of the courtroom after Gay’s group already was seated. The Columbus, Ohio, couple has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Gay and the tavern.
The question of cameras in the courtroom came up early. Both sides in the case opposed them, saying that cameras can influence witness testimony and distort what’s happening in the trial.
Three media groups, including the Observer, urged Bridges to allow the cameras, arguing that the public’s right to know is enhanced by the visual and audio coverage.
Bridges, who has allowed cameras in some other trials, said he generally supports the notion of an open courtroom. But this time, without explanation, he sided with the trial attorneys. He added that he might revisit the issue later, perhaps allowing cameras for closing arguments or some later stage of the case.
Jury selection is expected to take the rest of the week, with opening arguments expected early next week.