A Florida judge on Tuesday denied Courtney Clenney’s request to limit the release of smartphone evidence that her attorney described as irrelevant and prejudicial to her murder prosecution for the stabbing death of boyfriend Christian Obumseli.
Dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, Clenney appeared in Miami-Dade Circuit Court Tuesday for the hearing on the motion for a protective order. It was her first courtroom appearance since pleading not guilty to second-degree murder last week for Obumseli’s death in their Miami apartment on April 3, 2022, in what her lawyers claim was self-defense. Her parents were also present to show their support for her, her attorneys confirmed after the hearing.
Clenney’s lawyer, Frank Prieto told the judge that even without having seen all of the state’s evidence, the defense felt a protective order was necessary to avoid tainting the jury pool with inflammatory content from Clenney’s phone, including pornographic videos, photos and other content related to her OnlyFans account as well as personal communications with family and friends.
Assistant state attorney Khalil Quinan urged the judge to not issue a blanket order as a “prophylactic” against evidence that could be unfavorable to the defense in this early stage of the exchange of evidence, which is called discovery.
Prieto said the public’s response to elevator video showing a confrontation between Clenney and Obumseli showed the need for a “backstop” to the “salacious” release of irrelevant material. Prieto accused prosecutors of releasing the video during a press conference without providing the necessary context that the clash had occurred months before Clenney stabbed Obumseli.
“There’s a hunger for this case in the media and what we’re trying to do is make sure this case gets tried in a court of law.”
Quinan fired back with the argument that Clenney’s defense was out front and center long before the release of the elevator video, to which Prieto responded that he was simply defending his client.
Arguing for the Miami Herald, lawyer Scott Ponce said that discovery becomes public record subject as soon as it’s handed over to the defense, making it subject to release under state disclosure laws. The media lawyer went through the three prongs of what’s known as a Lewis test for deciding whether to restrict access to public records, arguing that the Clenney’s defense failed to satisfy any of them:
- Closure is necessary to prevent a serious and imminent threat to the administration of justice;
- No alternatives are available, other than change of venue, which would protect a defendant’s right to a fair trial; and
- Closure would be effective in protecting the rights of the accused, without being broader than necessary to accomplish this purpose.
Ponce argued that the requested protective order was broader than necessary to protect Clenney’s fair trial rights, and that disclosure would not threaten the court’s ability to find a fair and impartial jury.
“A fair and impartial jury doesn’t mean someone who’s never heard of the defendant or this case,” Ponce said. “It’s someone who can put aside preconceived notions.”
Quinan echoed the arguments from the media attorney, adding that it was too soon for the defense to make such a request without having seen most of discovery. The elevator video represented less than one-fourth of 1% of discovery in the case, Quinan said, and so far, the state has only accessed the victim’s phone, not the defendant’s.
“The simple fact is the defendant has failed to meet its burden and it’s asking the court to let them control the narrative without knowing what the discovery is.”
In the absence of a blanket order, Prieto asked for the chance to go through the material with prosecutors so they could decide together on what to release. Judge Diana Vizcaino rejected both requests, saying she was bound to the Lewis test and the defense had failed to satisfy it.
Court TV legal correspondent Julia Jenaé contributed to this report.