A Black television reporter in Arkansas was ordered to serve three days behind bars for violating orders against recording a hearing in a murder case, but released just a few hours after her sentence began.
According to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Nkiruka Azuka Omeronye, a reporter for Rogers, Ark. station KNWA, was found in contempt of court after she admitted to recording the Oct. 7 proceedings in the capital murder case of Mauricio Torres. She testified that she recorded the proceedings to ensure she took accurate notes.
“Your honor, I would like to say I realize this is a sensitive case,” Omeronye, who uses the name Nkiruka Azuka on the air, told Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren. “I did not mean to disrespect you or your courtroom.”
Omeronye said she recorded only for note-taking purposes and never intended to broadcast it. She had worked at other stations where reporters were typically allowed to record court hearings.
Karren has a sign on the front door to his courtroom that says audio recording is prohibited. There are also three other similar signs in the lobby area. Omeronye, however, said she did not see those signs.
Still, the judge found that she deliberately made the recordings, despite the rule, meaning she was in contempt. She was placed on six months probation and ordered to serve 10 days in Benton County Jail. Her sentence was eventually suspended and reduced to just three days.
Omeronye’s sentencing had been criticized by media and journalism organizations, who called jail time too harsh.
“I believe she learned her lesson, and jail time is not something necessary to teach her this lesson,” said Jonathan Nelson, Omeronye’s attorney.
Her term began on Wednesday, but instead of serving the full amount of her sentence, she was released after just a few hours and given time served, according to the Democrat-Gazette.
She is still required to pay $250 in court costs.
The station released a statement on Tuesday about the incident.
On behalf of KNWA/FOX24, we regret the incident regarding reporter, Nkiruka Omeronye, who goes by Nkiruka Azuka on air. Nikiruka has offered a sincere apology to the judge, to her colleagues, and to the station. As we do with all our journalists, we have counseled her on obeying all courtroom rules, as well as Arkansas Judicial Guidelines.