BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Notes taken during a jailhouse interview by a reporter with The Bakersfield Californian have been turned over to an attorney representing a man charged in the slaying of a corrections counselor, the paper reported Wednesday.
Earlier this month, an appellate court denied the paper’s petition to overturn a Superior Court judge’s ruling ordering the notes be handed over. The eight-month legal saga cost the paper roughly $100,000, it reported.
Here’s the background:
On the night of Aug. 24, 2022, Benny Alcala Jr., 43, was shot near the Target on Stockdale Highway while charging an electric vehicle. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation counselor died at the scene.
Robert Pernell Roberts, 30, was arrested days later. Another man, Sebastian Parra, 23, testified at an earlier hearing that he was with Roberts the night of the shooting. He said Roberts targeted the counselor because he believed he had money. Parra denied involvement in Alcala’s death.
Later, a grand jury indicted Parra. Both he and Roberts face life terms in prison if found guilty of charges including first-degree murder.
Former Californian reporter Ishani Desai interviewed Parra in jail and published an article in February.
That prompted Roberts’ former attorney, Deputy Public Defender Lexi Blythe, to file subpoenas seeking Desai’s notes. Blythe argued they contained information “necessary and material” to Roberts’ defense.
The paper’s attorney, Thomas R. Burke, argued the notes were protected from disclosure by the First Amendment and the state’s Shield Law, which protects journalists from being compelled to disclose confidential sources or unpublished material.
In May, Superior Court Judge Elizabet Rodriguez ordered the paper to give the notes to Blythe after determining they were “reasonably necessary” in helping her present a defense.
The paper appealed, and the 5th District Court of Appeal issued its ruling Nov. 7.
Criminal proceedings, halted during the appeal, can now proceed. Roberts — now represented by Deputy Public Defender Gordon Lake after Blythe took a job with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office — and Parra are due back in court early next year.