News’ View: Make the documents public

This afternoon, a judge in New Haven Superior Court will decide whether to unseal the search and arrest warrants served by the state on the man accused of killing Annie Le GRD ’13.

Those warrants include, presumably, a great deal of evidence implicating Raymond Clark III in last month’s gruesome murder. After all, authorities have said that no more arrests are planned in connection with the case and they have indicated that both polygraph and DNA tests point to Clark as the killer.

But, beyond that, almost nothing is known about the government’s case against Clark. Though warrants are usually public documents, judges involved in the proceedings have twice sealed these important records. First, at the request of prosecutors, a judge sealed the arrest and search warrants for 14 days following Clark’s arrest. Then, two weeks ago, the documents were again sealed at the request of Clark’s attorneys.

Both parties claimed disclosure of the documents could harm their case by preventing further investigation or tainting potential jurors, but these arguments are unconvincing.

State’s Attorney Michael Dearington has shown continued disregard for the public and the press throughout the investigation, refusing at times to explain even the most basic information about the case. At one point, hiding behind the veil of an “ongoing investigation,” he refused to name the judge who signed the warrants against Clark. When two News reporters asked him for a redacted version of the warrant, he offered them blank pieces of paper.

Now, after weeks of staying quiet and after weeks without any developments in the case, it’s time for Dearington and others involved in the proceedings to start talking.

Thankfully, lawyers for the Hartford Courant filed a motion to unseal the warrants two weeks ago. We support the Courant’s efforts and call on judge Roland Fasano to grant the motion today.

Judge Fasano should make this decision not just because the public has a right to an open judicial process, but also because Clark has a right to a fair trial. The argument that keeping the warrants sealed will ensure an impartial jury at trial is absurd; at best, it allows for misinformation about the case to continue spreading on blogs and in media reports. Although the warrants may contain some unsavory details, putting all of the evidence in the public’s eye is better than allowing for baseless claims to sound like truths.

Moreover, for all intents and purposes, the local jury pool is already tainted in the government’s favor. Given the national media attention that was given to the investigation into Le’s death just days before her wedding, and given the sordid half-truths that were reported in the days after her body was found, it would be almost impossible to convene an unbiased jury in New Haven should the case go to trial. Unsealing the warrants will not do much to further influence potential jurors.

Instead, unsealing the warrants would be a long-awaited recognition by the government of its obligation to make public information public.

Comments

  • ’12

    doesn’t the PATRIOT ACT let them keep these things private?

  • dk

    By “half-truths” do you mean widely repeated claims such as that the body was “inside a wall” or “behind a wall” as opposed to “in a chase”?

  • TD ’10

    “it would be almost impossible to convene an unbiased jury in New Haven should the case go to trial. Unsealing the warrants will not do much to further influence potential jurors.”

    Why even bother with the trial at all? Like it or not, the judge’s obligation isn’t (directly) to the public, the press, or your sense of right and wrong. It is to the law. In this case, that means ensuring the defendant enjoys a fair trial. Your bylines will just have to wait.

  • ns

    what a beautiful cover rachel!

  • ns

    and chris! and gabriel!!!