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Court seals portions of Columbine shooter autopsy

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         COLORADO         Freedom of Information         Jan 8, 2002    

Court seals portions of Columbine shooter autopsy

  • A judge determined that public interest in the release of graphic step-by-step autopsy information was irrelevant and closed the records at the request of shooter’s parents.

Graphic portions of the autopsy of Dylan Klebold, one of two Columbine shooters, will remain closed at the request of his parents, a district court judge in Golden, Colo., ruled Jan. 2.

Although autopsy reports are not exempt under the Colorado Open Records Law, a trial court may find that they can be withheld if disclosure would do “substantial injury to the public interest.” The judge rejected arguments by the Rocky Mountain News in Denver that the Klebold autopsy should be released because it could shed light on whether Klebold killed himself.

The Jefferson County coroner had initially denied autopsy reports on 12 of 13 Columbine victims, responding to requests by their parents that the reports not be released; however, the court in an earlier decision ruled that non-graphic portions of the autopsies would be disclosed.

The court later upheld the coroner’s ruling with regard to the graphic, step-by-step autopsy information included in the reports. The court found that the public, wanting to see victims’ families and friends “move on as best they can,” would have a “substantial interest” in protecting them from the pain of having the autopsies released.

The Klebold family then asked the court to also bar disclosure of graphic details in their son’s autopsy report.

The News intervened, saying the public has an interest in details which could help determine if Klebold had actually committed suicide. It pointed out inconsistencies in the pathologist’s conclusion that a wound to the left side of Klebold’s head could have been self-inflicted.

Judge R. Brooke Jackson said the public’s interest in release of records on the Klebold death was irrelevant and that he would only consider whether the public has a substantial interest in withholding the records.

Noting that the Klebolds, like the parents of the victims, said they would be hurt by the disclosures, the judge said the community’s interest in not inflicting further pain upon parents who have lost a child would encompass the Klebolds.

Parents of Eric Harris, the other shooter, did not object to release of his autopsy report. It was subsequently made public.

(In re Blesch; Media attorneys: Thomas Kelley and Steven Zansberg, Denver) RD

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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