Why you should know Jana Winter

By: John Richards Posted: April 8, 2013 1 Comment

Imagine being threatened with imprisonment for simply doing your job, a legal job, in an old and mostly noble profession. In fact members of this profession may be the ones responsible for telling others about what’s referred to as “the world’s oldest profession”. We’re talking about being a reporter, Jana Winter’s chosen profession. She works for Fox News and now faces jail time for refusing to name a confidential source.

But what’s really important here are the circumstances. Jana’s source doesn’t have any information needed to locate a perpetrator. No information needed to solve a crime. No testimony required to secure a conviction. Nothing at all.

What Winter did was report on the Aurora, Colorado movie shooter James Holmes. Specifically, she found a witness who knew of a notebook sent to the University of Colorado psychiatrist who was treating Holmes. A notebook in Holmes own writing that detailed his desires to kill people, a lot of people. It apparently contained enough information which could, and should, have led to his commitment in a secure psychiatric facility.

Winter’s running afoul of the law wasn’t that she reported the information. It was that her source gave her the information despite the judge’s gag order prohibiting investigators, prosecutors and defense lawyers from talking about the case. And of course Holmes defense team cried foul, complained about his right to a fair trial and demanded the judge hold a hearing to find out who leaked the notebook. After testimony from about fifteen investigators no one knows who did it, prompting the judge to demand Winter reveal her source under penalty of contempt and jail time.

But to quote Hilary Clinton, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

Actually, a lot. But not necessarily for the defense. Holmes is, to use the precise medical term, nuts. His defense team is planning on an insanity defense proving they’re not nuts too. Sure the notebook shows premeditation of the killing but it’s not really important to proving Holmes’ insanity. In fact it helps make the case. Holmes was reportedly a brilliant neuroscience researcher and as the saying goes, “It’s a fine line between genius and insanity.” So much for premeditation being an issue.

What’s really important here is what’s at issue for the state. Of course they want a conviction, and they’ll get one. More important is the liability against other state institutions, the University of Colorado and the Aurora Police Department. It’s a case of the old question, “What did they know and when did they know it?” And the follow up question is “What did they do about it?”

So what did they know? A university psychiatrist who had been treating Holmes, Dr. Lynne Fenton, in June, 2012 deemed Holmes to be a “danger to the public due to homicidal statements” in a report to campus police. This came after Holmes stopped his sessions with Fenton and subsequently started threatening her via text messages. Finally, on July 12th, just 8 days before the theatre massacre, Fenton had his university building access card deactivated.

And what did the university do about this “danger to the public”? Apparently not much. They got him out of the university and off the campus and then washed their collective hands of him. The insane asylum guards turned the key and let him loose upon the world. And that, as any sharp lawyer would say, makes the university culpable.

Whether or not the Aurora Police Department was contacted prior to the shooting is unclear at this point, but the same applies to them if any of their officers had even a casual conversation with anyone from the university. Time and testimony will tell.

And Jana Winter may be jailed because she helped bring this dirty little secret to light. That the knowledge existed to prevent this tragedy had anyone in the chain simply done their job and acted responsibly. Just one visit by police to Holmes’ apartment and it never would have happened.

Governments, public institutions and the courts should not be permitted to operate in the dark. Jana Winter’s source knew the existence and content of Holmes’ notebook should see the light of day. Jailing her for not revealing her source sends a message to all reporters that you can only do your job to the extent the government allows you to. Revealing her source means certain retribution will be brought upon him or her. It also means any whistle-blower would have to be nuttier than Holmes to talk to a reporter in the first place. And when that happens we all lose.

Jana Winter did her job and that’s why you should know Jana Winter.


One Response to “Why you should know Jana Winter”

  1. Bill J. Canada
    April 8th, 2013 @ 9:57 am

    Excellent piece John. RIP the first and second amendments.

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