'This is still America': Judge refuses to gag press covering murder case

A local lawyer came to her senses Friday and backed off her call to gag the media covering her client, a suspect in two local slayings.

Nathan Burkett, 65, is charged with killing two Las Vegas women in separate cold cases dating back to 1978 and 1994.

But Burkett's criminal history is far more extensive than just the current allegations. He served nine years of a 20-year manslaughter sentence in Mississippi before being released in 1992. Then, in 2003, Burkett began a six-year prison term after being convicted of voluntary manslaughter in connection with the death of a 41-year-old Las Vegas woman.

Given Burkett's record, it's understandable that his public defender, Alzora Jackson, is more than a bit frustrated with her ability to mount a defense. How else to explain a silly defense motion last week to seek restrictions on media coverage of the case due to reports published by this newspaper and video posted online by Las Vegas police?

By Friday, Ms. Jackson had retreated, saying the motion had been drafted before she was assigned the case. She said her problem was with the police, not the press, and that she hadn't intended to argue for restrictions on the media.

In the end, Justice of the Peace Eric Goodman struck down the request. "This is still America and we have First Amendment rights," he said the day before his ruling. "I'm not inclined to limit the press in any way in this case or any other."

Good. And the next time Ms. Jackson - or anybody else in the Office of the Clark County Public Defender - gets the urge to restrict public access to a felony criminal proceeding, she should be forced to take a refresher course in constitutional law.