Judge Orders Warrants Unsealed in Poway Synagogue Shooting Case

SAN DIEGO (CN) – A California judge sided with local media stations and the Associated Press on Thursday in finding 17 state-issued warrants in the Poway Synagogue shooting case should be unsealed.

San Diego Superior Court Presiding Judge Peter Deddeh found there’s “no ground to keep them sealed or any legal reason for that” before ordering the unsealing of 17 warrants issued following a shooting in April during the last weekend of the sacred Jewish holiday of Passover at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in north San Diego County.

Deddeh ordered the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office to redact the names of investigating officers and civilian witnesses to the shooting before making the warrants publicly available within a week.

Nineteen-year-old John T. Earnest is accused of shooting and killing Lori Kaye and wounding several other people, including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein and a young girl and her uncle.

Earnest has pleaded not guilty and is being held in state custody without bail. He could face life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty if convicted.

The teenaged shooter also faces 109 federal hate crime charges, with each charge representing the 54 congregants present at the synagogue during the attack.

Earnest was not present in court Thursday, but his attorney, public defender John O’Connell, was.

Investigators say Earnest is also responsible for setting fire to the Dar-ul-Arqam mosque and Islamic Center in Escondido in March. A handful of congregants who were present snuffed out the late-night fire. Investigators say Earnest took credit for the arson in an online manifesto posted shortly before the shooting in Poway.

In court Thursday, media attorney Elizabeth Baldridge with Jassy Vick Carolan of Los Angeles sat next to San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Greg Moran. A cohort of local media outlets including The San Diego Union-Tribune, NBC 7 San Diego, KFMB News 8, Fox 5 San Diego and The Associated Press filed the civil intervening motion to unseal the state warrants last month.

Deputy District Attorney Leonard Trinh did not oppose unsealing the warrants and supported the motion with redactions.

California state law requires a 10-day waiting period before search warrants can be unsealed. The media outlets argued the documents at issue in the case should have been made public by prosecutors 10 days after they were filed with the court.

Two search warrants in the federal case have already been unsealed.

The newly unsealed warrants could show where Earnest purchased the AR-15 rifle he used during the shooting, which prosecutors have said was purchased legally. The documents may also show that Earnest has a state hunting license, which allows Californians between 18 and 20 years old to purchase firearms. California state law does not allow gun purchases made by persons under 21, but for a few exceptions.

Following the court hearing Baldridge told reporters getting the warrants unsealed is important to “uphold values of public oversight over judicial proceedings and over high-profile criminal proceedings like this one.”

“At a basic level, it’s just following the law,” Baldridge added.

Earnest’s next court hearing is a preliminary exam readiness conference scheduled for Aug. 1.

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