A video that prosecutors say shows a 16-year-old girl being raped by three teenage boys, including the son of an Orange County assistant sheriff, was the focus of an unusual court hearing Wednesday, suggesting legal battles ahead over its use as evidence if the case reaches trial.
In a hearing to determine whether the court's DVD version is a true copy of the original tape, Orange County Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno took the unusual step of agreeing to shield the video from the view of courtroom spectators. Both the prosecution and defense asked him to limit viewing of the alleged sexual assault.
"I don't believe showing of the DVD and all its pornographic splendor needs to be seen by the public," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Brian Gurwitz, who added that his main concern was the alleged victim's right to privacy.
Prosecutors allege that Gregory Haidl, 17, and friends Kyle Nachreiner, 18, and Keith Spann, 18, all of Rancho Cucamonga, videotaped themselves raping the unconscious girl July 6, 2002, at the Corona del Mar home of Orange County Assistant Sheriff Donald Haidl, Gregory's father.
During a recess, defense attorneys and prosecutors moved their chairs around tables while the court's three television monitors were turned away from spectators. The judge's decision, which affected only Wednesday's viewing, also halted videotaping of the hearing by a CBS camera crew for "48 Hours Investigates."
When the hearing resumed, the 20-minute video was played without sound and was authenticated by the judge as the same one viewed by a previous judge in chambers.
Defense attorneys have argued that the girl had consented to sexual intercourse with all three boys in the days leading up to the taped incident.
They said after Wednesday's hearing that they will challenge the videotape -- especially on behalf of Haidl and Nachreiner, who face additional charges of inflicting great bodily harm when they allegedly assaulted the girl with a pool cue.
Defense attorneys also said they are concerned that someone may have tampered with the tape before or after it was turned over to police and prosecutors, who have examined it to identify the alleged criminal violations.
In addition, the defense plans to argue that the video should not be admitted as evidence because it was stolen, said Joseph G. Cavallo, Haidl's attorney. A video camera containing the tape was taken by a friend of one of the suspects and later turned over to police.
Briseno will hear further arguments, including a motion to dismiss the charges, on Nov. 24. The judge cautioned attorneys that he wants to hold an open trial -- an indication that the video, if it is entered in evidence, eventually will be viewed by a jury and courtroom spectators.
"Unfortunately, cases of this nature have come up before, and they have been handled in the public," Briseno said. "I would be very cautious about making this a closed proceeding in any matter."