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Supreme Court rejects effort to compel FoxNews.com reporter to reveal sources

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FoxNews.com reporter Jana Winter, right, and her attorneys are shown after the New York Court of Appeals threw out a subpoena requiring her to go to Colorado and reveal sources for an exclusive story or face jail. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a last-ditch bid by the lawyers for Colorado movie theater shooting suspect James Holmes to compel FoxNews.com reporter Jana Winter to reveal confidential sources from a story or face jail. 

Winter earlier had won her case before New York's highest court, which in December ruled that -- thanks to New York's strong media shield law -- she would not have to comply with a Colorado subpoena demanding she testify. 

But Holmes' attorneys, refusing to drop the issue despite little indication that Winter's testimony would influence the outcome of the case, later appealed to the Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court on Tuesday left in place the New York court's ruling. 

The decision was hailed as a victory for free-speech rights. 

Fox News said in a statement: "We're pleased that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of free speech today. The Court made it clear that Jana Winter can never be compelled to testify in Colorado, and that all New York-based journalists and media companies can rely on New York's strong shield law when they are covering news across the country." 

The FoxNews.com story in question cited unidentified law enforcement sources in reporting that Holmes sent a notebook detailing how he would kill people to a psychiatrist before the attack, in which 12 people died and dozens were injured. 

Defense attorneys all along argued that the sources violated a gag order, undermining Holmes' right to a fair trial. Yet his attorneys have not denied Holmes was the shooter -- the trial centers instead on the question of whether Holmes was insane during the time of the massacre. 

In seeking Winter's testimony, their efforts have drawn loud objections from journalism organizations who said the demand could produce a chilling effect on journalists, who routinely rely on confidential sources to do their jobs -- and whose sources rely on them to keep their identities secret. 

Winter, in fighting to protect her sources' confidentiality, has faced the threat of jail for more than a year; a possibility that was renewed when Holmes' attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court.   

In December, New York's highest court narrowly ruled that Winter should not be forced to testify in Colorado. 

Colorado, unlike New York, does not have strong legal protections for reporters. Inspired by the Winter case, a Colorado lawmaker tried earlier this year to pass a bill that would strengthen the state's media shield laws, but the bill died in committee.