MAYS LANDING, N.J. — A judge presiding over the April Kauffman murder case issued a gag order Monday after scolding both Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner, who appeared on and promoted a 20/20 show about the case, and Ferdinand Augello, the man charged with murder in the case, who has been relentlessly posting evidence and commentary on Facebook.
Superior Court Judge Bernard DeLury, speaking from the bench, called it "irresponsible" of the parties to have the case play out in the media.
Although the gag order was requested by the prosecutor, DeLury had equally harsh words for both sides and said the actions had potentially tainted a jury pool in an area where publicity about the 2012 murder of Kauffman, a radio host and veterans' advocate, has been pervasive.
"The state's involvement with a network news magazine program and Mr. Augello's apparent channeling of discovery and his commentary about it on Facebook have negatively impacted the jury pool," DeLury said. "Speculation, innuendo, inflammatory rhetoric, and gossip, even dressed up in social media posts or network news magazine segments, have no place in a fair speedy and public criminal trial."
Donna Weaver, a spokeswoman for Tyner, replied to a request for comment on the judge's scolding and gag order by saying: "No comment. Thanks."
Augello, an alleged leader of a South Jersey Pagans motorcycle gang implicated in the slaying, is the only surviving person charged with murder in the case, after his codefendant, endocrinologist James Kauffman, the husband of the victim, was reported by authorities to have committed suicide inside his jail cell in Hudson County in January.
James Kauffman had been moved to Hudson County after prosecutors alleged that Augello was plotting to kill him, something Augello has repeatedly denied on Facebook.
The 20/20 segment that aired in June on ABC featured a lengthy interview with Tyner as he walked down a chilly Atlantic City Boardwalk, and interviews with James Scoppa, the chief detective in the case. It featured tours of the house where April Kauffman was found dead in 2012 in which the reporter was accompanied by Scoppa, and a glimpse of the suicide note James Kauffman left behind.
That suicide note has not otherwise been made public. The Prosecutor's Office sent out a news release urging people to watch the program.
Though confined to the Atlantic County jail, Augello has been posting on his Facebook page criticizing the prosecution's case against him and referring to grand jury testimony that prosecutor Seth Levy said should be confidential. Augello has invited people to visit him in jail and declared himself "falsely accused" of murder, attempted murder, and racketeering.
Augello, whose Pagans group has been implicated in an opioid ring run out of James Kauffman's office, has pointed to another defendant in the case, Joseph Mulholland, who has admitted a role in the crime but has not been charged with murder.
He refers to grand jury testimony that Mulholland told detectives he picked up the alleged shooter in the case, Francis Mulholland, and dropped him off by the baseball fields of Mainland Regional High School in Linwood, within walking distance of the Kauffman home.
"Approximately about a half hour later he received a phone call from Francis advising him that the job was complete and he killed April," Augello quoted in one of his Facebook posts.
Augello, anticipating the gag order in the case, wished his supporters "goodnight" and posted a possible farewell video taken outside his sign shop.
Francis Mullholland died of an accidental heroin overdose in 2013, prosecutors said. He was never charged in the Kauffman case.
"Witness testimony is to be tested in the crucible of direct cross-examination, not in the glare of a computer or television screen," DeLury said. "A witness should not be the subject of internet trolling or anonymous commentary."
DeLury added that he was "mindful that the court may be closing the barn door after the equine has already bolted."
Jury selection in Augello's trial is set to begin Sept. 11.