Houston Chronicle reporter Gabrielle Banks was thrown out of a federal courtroom as a death row inmate convicted of killing an off-duty Houston police officer took the witness stand in his attempt to overturn his conviction, the Chronicle reports. Chuong Duong Tong, 40, who has been on Texas death row for nearly 20 years, is asking a federal court to intervene in his capital murder conviction in the death of off-duty Houston police officer Coung Huy “Tony” Trinh, 25.
The officer was working as a clerk in his family’s convenience store when Tong came in to rob it in 1997, prosecutors contended. U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas ordered the courtroom sealed at noon Tuesday after testimony by a former informant in the case. A court document said “sensitive hearing material” was expected to be presented and would lead to closure of the courtroom. The Chronicle objected to the closure, noting that courtroom testimony is expected to be presented in public. The judge rejected the objection. The testimony came during a hearing on Tong’s contention that Harris County prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense during his trial that could have been used to help him fight the charges.