Chaos (and police!) in the media line

Grant Smith Ellis, seen at right wearing a suit jacket, speaks with Dedham Police officers during a dispute early Monday morning in which he and another person in the Karen Read murder trial media line claimed assault against each other. (Flint McColgan/Boston Herald)

Could the media become the message in the Karen Read murder trial?

Early Monday morning, five Dedham Police officers responded to the media line at Norfolk Superior Court in Dedham for at least one report — and possibly two reports — of assault.

Media representatives have arrived for the media line ever earlier for a chance at one of the 10 media passes allotted on a first-come, first-served basis for courtroom access in the Read trial. This reporter has arrived daily between 4:30 and 5:30 am, which is still not early enough to be guaranteed a spot. Boston’s TV stations have overnight videographers who save seats for their reporters, and some have stated they’ve arrived as early as 2 am

But over the last few days of the trial, people have been setting up seats the night before as a spot saver without a representative present. A Massachusetts Courts has declared the court will not get involved in online disputes and has not taken on multiple proposals for a change.

Read, 44, of Mansfield, faces charges of second-degree murder, motor vehicle manslaughter and leaving the scene of a collision causing the death of John O’Keefe, a 16-year Boston Police officer and her boyfriend of about two years at the time.

An altercation

At around 6:45 am there was a very loud disturbance at the front of the line. Grant Smith Ellis, an independent commentator on the case, and Jess Machado of the Fall River Reporter were screaming at each other and accusing the other of assault.

And it was all over the concept of spot saving.

Machado posted on

“I spent the start of my Mother’s Day driving an hour out to Norfolk Superior in hopes of getting a space in the media line so I could be in the courtroom for the first time in two weeks for the Karen Read trial,” she wrote. “I went back to my car and stayed for a little while and then drove home to celebrate today with my family.”

Smith Ellis quibbled with that on his own feed, posting at 7:22 am Sunday that Machado “threw the chair of the first person in line (me) across the courthouse steps.”

According to Smith Ellis’ post, a summons was issued to none of them. They remained in line.

The issues

The third person in line when the dust settled was Aidan “Turtleboy” Kearney, a blogger devoted to covering the case from a rabidly pro-Read perspective. He had an unaffiliated volunteer who said she arrived at 11 pm the night before to save him a seat. Kearney himself took the seat at around 6:20 am He spoke with police following the altercation in Machado’s defense.

His opposite is Smith Ellis, who comments on the case from a vehemently pro-prosecution perspective.

And this is not the first the pair had dug it out, verbally, in the Read trial media line.

Kearney was granted Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court media credentialing last Tuesday. He is listed as the representative for TBDailyNews.com, his blog where he has written about a medley of Massachusetts crime and political news and “ratchet” members of the public. Since 2023, his coverage has increasingly focused on the case of Karen Read.

He arrived at court the next day, a Wednesday, but not early enough to make the cut. But he quickly became entangled in a loud and profanity-laced incident with Smith Ellis that led to the visible discomfort of those in the media line.

“(Expletive) accused rapist,” Smith Ellis yelled at Kearney repeatedly. “Get out of my (expletive) line.”

SJC media credentialing, known as Rule 1:19, is not limited to established or mainstream news outlets.

“The news media are defined as those who are regularly engaged in the reporting and publishing of news or information about matters of public interest. This includes citizen journalists who meet this standard,” the SJC’s page on the rule states.

Kearney made it into the courtroom on Friday. Before 11 a.m., however, a motions hearing was agreed to argue Kearney’s access to the case, as he is currently indicted on multiple charges of intimidating witnesses in the case. His case is pending.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Beverly Cannone swept him from covering the case in-person while certain witnesses were on the stand. He is still eligible for a daily press badge and should he make the cut, he will still be allowed to cover the case in person when the excluded witnesses are not present.

Possible changes

The ever-earlier arrivals of those wanting a spot, and the increasing confusion and hostility experienced on the line, has led to new proposals to try to solve the issue.

One proposal authored by a local TV reporter on behalf of others in the line proposed last week upping the daily media pass cap to 12 to reflect the number of outlets who have been online every day. The proposal, sent to Massachusetts Courts Communications Director Jennifer Donahue, did not amount to any changes by Monday.

Another idea circulated that proposed a rotating allotment of press passes so that each outlet could have a spot in the courtroom at least on some days without the early arrivals and disputes on the line. Nothing had come from that proposal either.

Donahue has also not responded to a Herald request for comment regarding formal complaints filed over certain people who have caused issues on the line.

This is a developing story.

Flint McColgan/Boston Herald

The Karen Read murder trial media line at about 7 am while police were still on the scene getting statements regarding an alleged assault on the line. (Flint McColgan/Boston Herald)

 
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