Killer Unsealed

The Times is continuing its campaign to unseal documents in the Maurice Clemmons case.

After reams of Pulitzer Prize–winning coverage, plus a book, you might think The Seattle Times has exhausted the material available in the Maurice Clemmons cop-killing case. But, in fact, the paper is going after more. Last week, in response to a petition from the Times, the state Supreme Court ruled that Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff erred when he sealed exhibits produced in open court relating to the Clemmons case. The exhibits, including police files, had been on display this past summer in the trial of Clemmons' sister Latanya, charged with providing assistance to her brother after the murder. (She was eventually convicted.) But immediately after prosecutors had presented the evidence, several other accused accomplices, whose trials were then pending, sought to have the exhibits sealed. When Chushcoff ruled in their favor, the Times appealed. The Times has sought other police files in the Clemmons case, and the Pierce County Sheriff's Office was prepared to turn them over. But other defendants—one of whom may face the death penalty—objected, arguing that they wouldn't get a fair trial if the files were splashed over the pages of the Times. Pierce County Superior Court Judge Susan Serko agreed, signing an order preventing their release in May. But last week the Supremes ruled against Serko as well, saying that public records can't be categorically withheld just because someone thinks they won't get a fair trial. A defendant must make a case record by record, showing how each document makes it "more probable than not" that a trial would be tainted. And a judge, when considering such a request, must consider alternatives to suppressing public information, like sequestering jurors. Still, while the Supreme Court vacated both trial-court rulings, it did not order the documents in question released. That likely means the issue will go back to Superior Court, according to Times attorney Eric Stahl.

 
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