5:00 PM EST, February 27, 2013
Timely information about the Newtown tragedy would answer a horrified public's questions about murders of 27 people Dec. 14. It could also better guide the legislature as it makes policy choices in reaction to the crime.
Yet so far, lawmakers, the judiciary and law enforcement are doing the opposite of acting with more openness. Instead, they are clamping down. Their default reaction regarding what happened in Newtown is to use more secrecy, not less.
This trend must stop.
Awful as the details are, secrecy is a mistake. It ignites public worry. It prevents ordinary people who might know critical details from becoming law enforcement allies. Worse, secrecy feeds into the whispers of those conspiracy theorists who believe that the police have something to hide. It plays into the motives of the complete lunatics who spread the slander that this slaughter somehow never happened.
The closed-door approach started early.
After the murders, Danbury State's Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky asked Superior Court Judge John Blawie to seal five warrant applications and affidavits in the Newtown case for 90 days. Judge Blawie did. The warrants requested permission to search the home of murderer Adam Lanza and to search the car the shooter used to drive to Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In January, several newspapers asked that the warrants be opened, a reasonable request.
Mr. Sedensky's letter to the court asked that the warrants be sealed because "the investigation ... is still continuing and no arrests have been made and none are currently anticipated, but have not been ruled out."
The right of the public to see documents filed in court is always counterbalanced with a suspect's right to a fair trial. Yet in this case, the suspect is dead.
There's also an understandable reluctance to reveal details of a police investigation before a crime is solved. Again, with the shooter dead, it's hard to believe that information on a warrant application would jeopardize anything.
When a judge takes the drastic step of keeping information from the public, people deserve a reasoned explanation. Closing records by fiat is not merely high-handed. It erodes the public's faith in the Judicial Branch.
Superior Court Judge John F. Blawie didn't bother to spell out his decision to seal the warrants other than writing that "the state's interest in continuing nondisclosure substantially outweighs any right to public disclosure at this time."
That's not a reason. That's a conclusion.
The records should be released sooner, not later.
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