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Judge releases defendant's statements in fatal poisoning case

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Judge releases defendant’s statements in fatal poisoning case

  • A newspaper won the documents’ release after challenging a temporary court order sealing all papers related to the defendant’s motion to dismiss a child poisoning case.

Sep. 29, 2004 — A Massachusetts trial judge unsealed all court documents except the grand jury minutes in a highly publicized case in which a retired dentist is charged in the apparently accidental poisoning death of an infant.

The newly released records revealed that Constantine Pitsas, 76, told police he had no recollection of mixing a bottle of arsenic-laced weed killer and water that he accidentally gave to the 4-month-old baby and his 2-year-old sister, the Associated Press reported.

Pitsas’ attorney had sought to keep under wraps all documents pertaining to a motion to dismiss the case against his client, who faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. The judge temporarily sealed the papers, which included grand jury transcripts and statements from Pitsas, in August, but partially lifted the order Monday to allow the media access to everything but the grand jury minutes, AP reported.

Peter J. Caruso, who represents The Salem News and Eagle-Tribune Publishing Co., had opposed the sealing order as unconstitutional. He said it was important for the public to know the basis for the defense’s motion to dismiss.

“If you want people to buy what you’re selling, you’ve got to show what you’re selling,” he said in a telephone interview.

The defense had requested the sealing order to shield “damaging evidence and statements” that could impair the defendant’s right to a fair trial, according to The (Lynn) Daily Item . Caruso said the defense lawyer could have attached to his motion only the portions of the grand jury minutes he wanted to keep secret, rather than the entire file.

The judge took the motion to dismiss under advisement, the paper reported.

(Commonwealth v. Pitsas; Media Counsel: Peter J. Caruso, Andover, Mass.) KK

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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