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Master of Scaremonies
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Exploding Toy Murder Case Takes Odd Turn
Tuesday November 28, 2:53 am ET
Justin Scheck, The Recorder

The strangeness surrounding Patrick Hsu's 2001 murder began with the fact that he was killed by an exploding robot dog sent to him by mail. Then the prime suspect went on the lam, and the government flip-flopped on its decision to seek the execution of an alleged accomplice, David Lin, who now faces a non-capital trial in January.

But nothing in the case is more convoluted and bizarre than an offshoot piece of litigation having to do with a 2002 episode of "America's Most Wanted."
The show portrayed Hsu's murder, by way of a robot dog packaged as a gift. When Hsu put batteries in the apparent toy, a pipe bomb inside detonated.
The problem, according to Lin's defense lawyer, Daniel Blank, is that the show portrayed suspect Anthony Chang -- the victim's brother-in-law, and currently a fugitive -- and Lin as both being involved in the construction of the bomb.
Blank, an assistant federal public defender, argues in court filings that the depiction is inaccurate. For the last three years, he's been trying to get videotapes and transcripts of the show's outtakes to find out what prosecutors interviewed on the show told its producers off camera -- initially arguing that the show may have prejudiced the Northern California jury pool.

"America's Most Wanted" has fought back, hard: They've litigated the case from a magistrate court -- where a judge said the defense may subpoena show transcripts -- up through U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte, who last month refused to quash the subpoena.

That's when the fight took its strangest turn yet: In the process of appealing Whyte's decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, lawyers for the show accidentally sent the defense a copy of the transcripts it was trying to keep private.

"They were accidentally turned over," said the TV show's lawyer, Davis Wright Tremaine partner Thomas Burke. In court filings this week, Burke blamed the disclosure on a secretary who was preoccupied with her elderly mother's health and housing issues.

While re-enacting prosecutors' version of events may not strike most people as a typical journalistic enterprise, "America's Most Wanted" has argued for more than three years that a court order requiring disclosure could go a long way to crippling freedom of the press.

"America's Most Wanted's ability to broadcast important newsworthy information and thereby aid law enforcement in the capture of fugitives would be severely compromised if victims, witnesses or law enforcement officials believed that their tips might one day end up in a court of law," Burke wrote in a 9th Circuit brief.

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