Getting a fair trial amidst a blogosphere feeding frenzy

Have blog postings — many of them filled with inaccurate accounts — so inflamed a community that it is impossible for a man charged in connection with a brutal murder case to get a fair trial?

That’s a legal argument being made in Knoxville, Tenn., involving the gruesome carjackiing and murder of a young couple, Channon Christian and Chris Newsom.

The attorney for Eric Dewayne Boyd, charged with sheltering the accused ringleader in the crime, says Google returns 27,000 articles for “Channon” and “murder.” I’m not sure what day the attorney, Phillip Lomonaco, did the search, but he’s severely understating what’s on the Internet. On this day, I got 50,400 returns from Google with those two words in the search box and further tests yielded somewhat varying results. Click the link and see what you get.

The murder which occurred in January 2007, already has reached “urban legend” status with an entry on the popular urban legend site

There are at least 66 videos on YouTube when you search for Christian Newsom. Laomonaco said he found 82, but I’m sure what his search terms were.

There has been a circus-like rally by white supremacists with counter-protesters.

The attorney said in a court filing, the Internet buzz “spread lies and helped create an urban legend surrounding the details of the final state of the victims’ bodies — details meant to outrage and taint any jury pool.”

There hasn’t been a ruling on the attorney’s motion, but a story from The Associated Press quoted George Washington University law professor Stephen Saltzburg:

“Judges have always been aware that potential jurors get their information in a variety of ways,” said Saltzburg, who chairs the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section.

“It used to be newspapers, then it was newspapers and television. Then it was newspapers, television and cable channels. Now it is newspapers, television, cable channels and blogs and Internet messaging.

“I don’t think it changed anything,” Saltzburg said, adding that Internet concerns can be addressed with existing remedies, such as careful jury instructions and screening.

We’ll just have to wait to see what’s decided on venue. It would, however, be fascinating to know how the views, perceptions, and recollections of this case differ between people who primarily followed the coverage online and those who primarily followed the coverage in print or television. Do you think they differ?

And then, of course, there would be people that somehow missed it all and have been living in a dark place for a long time.