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Online reporter faces jail time over refusal to reveal sources for double murder story

  • Joe Hosey.JPG

    Patch reporter Joe Hosey vows to protect his sources, even under the threat of going to jail. (Photo: Janet Hosey)

  • Joiletmugshots.jpg

    Murder suspects Adam Landerman (clockwise, from top left), Alisa Massaro, Joshua Miner and Bethany McKee.

An Illinois crime reporter who published information from classified police reports regarding a grisly double murder is facing jail time after refusing to reveal his sources to a judge.

Joe Hosey, who works for the Joliet, Ill., Patch, a network of local news websites run by AOL, was ordered by Will County Judge Gerald Kinney  to give up the sources who gave him details about the murders last January. Two of the four suspects allegedly had sex on the victims' corpses, and all four are accused of drinking and partying after the two men were strangled.

Hosey, a 10-year veteran journalist known for reporting on the Drew Peterson case, has less than three weeks to comply with the order, but has said he will go to jail rather than give up the source. Kinney has ruled that the matter is not protected by the state's shield law, and that Hosey must comply or face an indefinite term behind bars.

“I know that I am doing the right thing and that has helped me with my decisions,” Hosey told FoxNews.com. “That’s the reason I’m doing this. On principle."

Hosey’s boss said the company will stand by its reporter.

“Obviously we feel that reporter privilege is important. We are not going to back down on this,” Patch Associate Editorial Director Dennis Robaugh told FoxNews.com.

Terrance Rankins and Eric Glover, both 22, were found dead in the home of Alisa Massaro, 19. Police say they were lured there and then strangled by Adam Landerman, 20, and Joshua Miner, 25. The three, as well as Bethany McKee, 19, were all charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

Massaro’s attorney, Chuck Bretz, filed the motion in court to subpoena Hosey after all other available sources of determining the leak were exhausted.

“We are obviously very pleased with the judge’s decision,” Bretz told FoxNews.com. “We feel it was the correct decision in this case.”

Hosey’s attorney disagrees and says they will file an appeal, if necessary.

“We respectfully disagree. The Shield Law absolutely applies here,” Ken Schmetterer said.

If Hosey is jailed, the implications could be chilling, according to experts.

“This action causes serious harm to journalists everywhere, and not just to reporters, but for the public to get information it needs to self-govern,”  David Cuillier, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and director of The University of Arizona’s journalism program told FoxNews.com. "Every journalist is leaked information – either verbally or through government documents, as in this case. There is nothing illegal about accepting government documents, even classified ones or even documents someone else acquired illegally.”

Cuillier adds that the judge’s decision could lead the country down a slippery slope.

“What is at stake here? The public’s ability to know what is going on, democracy," he continued. "And this judge just stuck a stiletto in its side. I hope he looks at the big picture and changes his mind. That kind of thinking leads us down a dangerous path as a nation.”

Hosey’s case echoes another ongoing challenge to the First Amendment involving FoxNews.com reporter Jana Winter. Winter was subpoenaed for her reporting of the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., after her exclusive report on a notebook accused gunman James Holmes had sent a psychiatrist days before the shooting spree that left 12 dead and 72 injured.

Winter is currently appealing the court order and has maintained that she will not divulge her sources despite the threat of what the judge hearing the case called "indefinite jail time."

"[There is] the real possibility that Winter may face indefinite jail time in this case as a remedial sanction for her refusal to disclose her confidential sources," Judge Carlos Samour wrote in granting a delay in Winter's next hearing until January.

Hosey is due back in court for a status hearing on Sept. 20. He said most people, including those he knows through his work at the courthouse, have been showing him support.

“People have been very supportive," Hosey said. "They know that this isn’t just about the rights of the media.”

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