But Craighead County Circuit Judge David Burnett told lawyers for the convicted men that he could rule from the bench without any hearings that new DNA evidence shouldn't be heard.
Speaking to attorneys during a hearing that lasted more than an hour, Burnett said he would likely hold hearings set to start September 8th. But he said he could follow a prosecutor's suggestion that the DNA evidence offered by defense attorneys isn't sufficient to order a new trial or overturn the convictions of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley.
Burnett banned television cameras and recording devices from his courtroom for the duration of the proceedings, citing the controversy around the case.
Burnett also said from the bench that reporters could only paraphrase what they heard in the courtroom today and not use direct quotes. But when reached after the hearing said he meant only that audio recordings made by journalists could not be broadcast or used online.
Burnett said he would issue a decision a few days before the scheduled hearings on whether the DNA evidence would be allowed.
Echols' lawyers say DNA tests would clear the three.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)