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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Judge Lifts Gag Order in Hate Crime Case

October 31, 2000

LOS ANGELES — Agreeing with a defense lawyer and the American Civil Liberties Union, a judge has reversed himself and lifted a gag order he had imposed in the case of Marie Elise West, the woman accused of the hate-crime slaying of an elderly Latino man she ran over with her car near a bagel shop.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael S. Luros issued the order preventing all parties in the case from discussing it outside of court, including with the media. Prosecutors asked for the restriction because of "privileged" medical records and fears that pretrial publicity could taint prospective jurors.

But last week, Luros reversed himself after the order was challenged by the ACLU as unconstitutional. He gave prosecutors until Monday to oppose his decision. They didn't, and the gag order was automatically lifted.

West, 35, allegedly ran her car over 65-year-old Jesus Plascencia in a Van Nuys parking lot next to a bagel factory on Sept. 1. Authorities said witnesses heard her make comments about her hatred of Latinos. According to the district attorney's office, the Manhattan Beach woman is the first person in Los Angeles County to be charged with murder under a California hate crime law, which carries a possible death penalty.

West's attorney, Carl A. Capozzola, said the woman, who takes anti-psychotic medication, was "in the middle of a psychotic episode" at the time of the incident and previously had been hospitalized numerous times because of her mental illness.

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