Rulings in Kettering teen murder case touch on Sixth, First Amendments

The urn holding the remains of a Fairmont High School student killed last year is allowed in court while the 17-year-old Kettering defendant awaits trial on adult murder charges.

But if the container carrying Ronnie Bowers’ ashes returns to court, you aren’t likely to see it.

That’s the result of separate rulings – touching on Sixth and First Amendments rights, respectively — by the judge overseeing the case.

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Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Dennis Langer has denied an attempt by Kylen Gregory’s attorney to get Bowers’ remains – which were in court in January - “or any other display meant to produce sympathy” barred from the courthouse.

Should the case go to trial, however, “this court agrees and will prohibit any and all displays in the courthouse and in the courtroom,” Langer stated in an Oct. 4 ruling, the same day he lessened restrictions on public access to court records in the case.

Another Oct. 4 ruling by Langer also placed restrictions on what the media covering the case can record, a term which “shall include broadcasting, televising, recording or photography.”

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“Media representatives are not permitted to record anything other than the court proceedings from the courtroom while court is in session,” the ruling states.

It also prohibits the media from recording “any spectators present during the trial or any pretrial proceedings,” making it unlikely images of the urn will be made public.

Gregory is being tried as an adult in the Sept. 4, 2016, shooting of Bowers, 16, on Willowdale Avenue shortly after both separately left AlterFest. Called an innocent bystander by police, Bowers died two days later of a gunshot wound to the head and his death was ruled a homicide.

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Gregory was indicted in August on two counts of murder, four counts of felonious assault with a deadly weapon and two related charges in Kettering’s first gun-related homicide since 2007, records show.

The urn holding Bowers’ ashes became an issue earlier this year in a January juvenile court hearing to help decide if Gregory would be tried as an adult in the shooting death of the 16-year-old Bowers.

Gregory’s attorney objected after Bowers’ family brought the urn into the courtroom and placed it on a partition. Attorney Ben Swift said it would prejudice the case. Juvenile Court Judge Anthony Capizzi said the urn would not sway any decision by him.

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Last month, Gregory attorney Jon Paul Rion sought to prevent Bowers’ family “from transporting his ashes into the courthouse.” He also tried to “get the “court to restrict the display of T-shirts, signs, monuments or any other display meant to produce sympathy for” Bowers “in and around the courthouse during….this case,” records show.

“This case has received a large amount of pretrial publicity throughout the year…,” Rion’s motion states. “Most of the persons involved were juveniles and the news media has pointed out that this was one of the few shootings in Kettering over the past several years.

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“The large amount of media coverage by itself will make it difficult to impanel a jury that has not already been privy to many of the facts and emotions involved in this case,” according to the motion. “ The presence of the decedent’s ashes as well as T-shirts, signs or displays in the courthouse…..will inject even more emotion….”

Yet, “the court is not persuaded that spectator displays during any pretrial proceedings would pose a risk to the defendant’s right to a fair trial,” according to Langer’s ruling.

In pretrial issues “the court will permit passive nonverbal displays by spectators which are not disruptive of court proceedings, including wearing clothing or buttons photos and holding the urn containing the decedent’s ashes,” the ruling states.

“Although such items may be brought into the courtroom during pretrial proceedings, spectators are not permitted to place items on the dividing bar which from counsel or court personnel,” according to the ruling.


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