Arkansas reporter sentenced to jail for recording murder trial

KNWA reporter Nikiruka Azuka Omeronye (Photo: Facebook)

An Arkansas reporter was sentenced this week to three days in county jail for recording a court proceeding.

Nikiruka Azuka Omeronye, a reporter for Fort Smith, Arkansas NBC affiliate KNWA (Channel 51), admitted in October to recording a portion of a murder trial she was assigned to cover for the station.

Omeronye, who goes by her first and middle name on air, said she never read an order issued by Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren that expressly prohibited recording devices from being used during a murder case involving 45-year-old Mauricio Alejandro Torres.

Torres was sentenced to death earlier this year after being convicted in connection with the death of his 6-year-old son Isaiah. His conviction was overturned in April after the Arkansas Supreme Court determined certain anecdotal evidence should have been disregarded when Torres was sentenced. The state supreme court ordered Torres to be re-tried.

On October 7, Judge Karren delayed Torres’ trial to next February. Omeronye recorded this hearing in violation of Judge Karren’s order.

In addition to the order, Arkansas courts have ruled spectators, including reporters, may not record legal proceedings without the express permission of the judge.

Earlier this week, Omeronye’s attorney said the reporter did not read Judge Karren’s order and was unaware recording was prohibited. The attorney said Omeronye had been allowed to record legal proceedings in Phoenix and St. Louis while working as a television reporter there.

Judge Karren said he felt Omeronye had shown remorse and didn’t intend to disobey an order, but he said Torres’ case had already been tried and overturned once before and he could not afford another mishap in his court.

The judge berated Omeronye’s employer for not properly training her on the rules of the court, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. He sentenced Omeronye to 10 days in county jail, but suspended one week of her sentence, meaning she only had to serve three days in custody.

Omeronye is allowed to leave the jail to work, the judge said. As part of her sentence, Omeronye has been prohibited from returning to the courtroom to cover Torres’ trial.

In a statement, KNWA/KFTA said it regretted the incident.

“Nikiruka has offered a sincere apology to the judge, to her colleagues, and to the station,” the station said. “As we do with all our journalists, we have counseled her on obeying all courtroom rules, as well as Arkansas Judicial Guidelines.”

It was not immediately clear if the reporter, who began her sentence on Wednesday, will appear on KNWA or its sister station, Fox affiliate KFTA through the remainder of the week.