Judge: No gag order in slaying case of 8-year-old

After a prosecutor claimed the defense was essentially requesting a gag order, a state judge refused Thursday to limit public statements by the prosecution and law enforcement in the case of a Baton Rouge man accused in the 2012 beating death of his 8-year-old son.

Xzayvion Riley’s parents both are charged with first-degree murder, but Michael Anthony Robertson, 48, and Lavaughn Riley, 34, will not be tried together.

Robertson attorney Elizabeth Coe argued Thursday in state District Judge Don Johnson’s courtroom that public statements about the case by either side put Robertson’s safety in prison at risk.

In a written motion filed May 1, Coe stated, “Due to the inflammatory nature of this charge of killing a child, every time the state is quoted discussing details of Mr. Robertson’s case in the media, Mr. Robertson faces heightened danger in custody.”

Coe pointed to an article published last June in The Advocate that cited court documents in which East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Will Morris detailed a history of abuse that allegedly preceded Xzayvion’s death in June 2012.

In the documents, Morris said the boy told state workers in August 2010 that his father choked him and shoved his head into a toilet, leaving abrasions on his neck that teachers noticed and reported.

In fall 2008, the prosecutor added in the documents, one of Xzayvion’s teachers noticed abrasions on each side of his mouth, and the boy said his father had put a belt to his mouth and moved it from side to side.

Morris argued Thursday to Johnson that all of his statements in the newspaper article were attributed to public court filings.

“The public has a right to know what’s going on in this courthouse,” he said in defense of his filings and the article.

Coe, who acknowledged Robertson is segregated in protective custody, countered that Robertson’s safety in prison is “a serious and significant problem.” She also said a court order limiting public statements on the case would minimize the risk of tainting the potential jury pool.

In the end, Johnson said he felt no need to supplement the oath that lawyers take to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct.

In a separate motion, Coe asked the judge to order the state not to send informants into Parish Prison in an attempt to get Robertson to talk. Coe described her request as a preemptive measure.

Morris said the state has no intention of doing so.

“We’re not going to send somebody to talk to him. We’re not going to talk to him,” he said.

The prosecutor stressed, though, that he has no control over Robertson talking to inmates currently at the prison.

Coe assured Johnson that Robertson does not wish to talk with anyone, other than his attorneys, about the case.

The judge issued an order forbidding state agents from being sent to the prison to speak with Robertson.

After the August 2010 incident, Morris has stated in court documents, a safety plan was put in place by the state Department of Children and Family Services “to limit Robertson’s involvement with his son.” The plan was in place until April 18, 2011.

East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark deemed Xzayvion’s death a homicide. The boy died of “overwhelming infection” caused by a ruptured bowel from blunt-force trauma to his abdomen, Clark has said. An autopsy also showed 60 external signs of recent and old trauma, including abrasions, bruises and a human bite mark.

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks has said Riley admitted to deputies she beat her son and caused some of the bruises on his body. Riley also said Robertson beat the child and caused the bruises and scratches on his neck.

Robertson denied any involvement in his son’s injuries, Hicks has said.