Judge Orders Release of Aurora Victims' Names
DENVER (CN) - A Colorado judge ordered the release of redacted names in the murder trial of James Holmes, who allegedly killed 12 moviegoers during a shooting spree at a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises."
On Sept. 28, members of the media petitioned the court to make public a list of victims who were wounded and killed during the July 27 rampage, as well as a list of witnesses scheduled to appear at trial.
The media argued that the victims of the Aurora, Colo. shooting "have no protectable right of privacy with respect to information directly relevant to that investigation," and said that their "identities as alleged victims of attempted murder are unquestionably already a matter of legitimate public interest and concern."
The media also said there has been no suggestion of "any danger to the physical safety of any witnesses, or the substantial probability of attempted witness tampering."
The court acknowledged that most of the victims' names were already "out there." The original criminal complaint filed against Holmes contained a list of the names and addresses of dozens of witnesses and victims of the shootings. The court initially released that complaint into public record at the courthouse and on the court website, without redactions and with the names and addresses intact. The names and addresses were later redacted.
Holmes' defense said in July that it was hesitant to release the information because it was too early in proceedings to gauge the effect it might have on the trial.
When the issue of redactions resurfaced in September, the defense again sought to withhold the victims' and witnesses' names, claiming that "any additional disclosures from the court file will jeopardize [Holmes'] right to receive a fair trial by an impartial jury."
Prosecutors also objected, saying that "many of the victims and witnesses have expressed concerns for their personal safety," that releasing the names could expose survivors to "harassment or abuse" and claiming that "fraudulent motions have been filed using the victims' names and information."
District Court Judge William Sylvester was not convinced.
Since previous redactions failed to protect the identities of the victims, Sylvester found that further redactions would not protect the victims of the shooting.
"Redaction of the names of victims or witnesses at this point would be largely symbolic and have very little practical effect," he wrote.
He noted that prosecutors had not submitted affidavits or testimony to support its claims.
"Neither party has articulated how court-ordered redaction of the names of the victims and witnesses at this time will better alleviate or remedy additional harm," Sylvester wrote.
Sylvester ordered both parties to submit updated documents without victims' names redacted.
The court also ordered the release of other already-public documents, including the curriculum vitae of Dr. Lynne Fenton, Holmes' former psychiatrist.