Judge denies gag order in Hill case

A Clayton County Superior Court judge has denied the prosecution’s request for a gag order in the criminal case against a former sheriff.

Judge Albert Collier stated in his ruling that there was not enough evidence that pretrial publicity has had a prejudicial effect on defendant Victor Hill’s ability to get a fair trial.

“There is not clear and convincing evidence that pretrial publicity in this case has had a prejudicial effect on the defendant’s ability to get a fair trial without the imposition of a restrictive gag order,” states Collier’s motion.

Hill was indicted Jan. 18 on 37 criminal counts. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Hill’s attorney, Musa Ghanayem, argued last week against the motion requested by special prosecutor Layla Zon.

“The state generated this publicity,” Ghanayem told Collier during the brief hearing. “We have the duty to reply to the accusations. I’d be ineffective if I didn’t.”

But Zon argued the court has a duty to protect Hill’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial.

“It’s become viral,” she said of the massive publicity since Hill’s indictment and arrest. “We want to use tax dollars wisely so a trial is done only once.”

Zon was appointed to the case when Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson recused her office from prosecuting Hill, a former Clayton County sheriff.

Instead, Collier reminded the attorneys of their professional responsibilities.

Ghanayem was hired by Hill specifically to argue against the gag order. Hill will continue to be represented by Jonesboro attorney Steven Frey.

Hill faces allegations of criminal activity that took place while he served as sheriff, from January 2005 to December 2008. He lost a bid for re-election to Sheriff Kem Kimbrough. Both men are expected to seek re-election this year, although qualifying is months away.

Collier has not yet set a trial date to hear the case against Hill.