The Colorado Supreme Court has ordered a district court to unseal the indictment against a man suspected in the disappearance of his young daughter.
The Denver Post and the Associated Press had filed a lawsuit challenging an Arapahoe County District Court ruling that sealed the indictment against Aaron Thompson of Aurora.
Thompson was indicted by a grand jury in May on 60 counts, including fatal child abuse and concealing a death. His daughter was reported missing in November 2005, when she would have been 6 years old. Authorities believe she is dead.
The Supreme Court, in its April 7 ruling In re: People v. Thompson, said that because the indictment is a “record of official action” under the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act it must be released to the public ? subject to the deletion of identifying information of any alleged sexual assault victims.
The high court ordered the district court to delete any such information and release the document. It wasn’t immediately known when the indictment would be released.
Arapahoe County District Judge Mark Hannen had written that his order to seal the case was based on “the ages of the alleged victims” and their interests. The lower court also argued that, in the Thompson case, the indictment should be treated as a record of grand jury proceedings ? which are secret ? rather than a public document.
The Post and the AP argued that the seal was unconstitutional under state and federal laws. The Post had previously challenged Hannen’s decision to seal the indictment.
Their petition noted that the public had been left “without even a hint of the factual basis” for Thompson’s arrest and incarceration, even after the judge in the case ruled that all 60 counts “are supported by probable cause.”
“As a result, the crucial factual details of the government’s accusations remain shrouded in unfounded and unconstitutional secrecy,” the news organizations said.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that under state statutes, the allegations in the Thompson indictment are not covered by grand jury secrecy, “however excessive the factual allegations in Thompson’s indictment are.”
The Post and the AP argued that the public has a First Amendment right of access to judicial records in cases of significant public interest ? a right guaranteed by both the state and federal constitutions as well as previous Colorado Supreme Court rulings.
But the Supreme Court declined to address the constitutional arguments because the Post and the AP did not seek the disclosure of identities of any victims.
Thompson reported his daughter Aarone ran away in November 2005 after an argument over a cookie. The indictment said Aarone probably died sometime between May 2002 and August 2004.
Police have said there were no credible reports of Aarone being seen for at least 18 months before her father reported her missing. They named Thompson and his girlfriend, Shely Lowe, as persons of interest in the case.
Lowe died in May 2006 of heart problems, shortly before the grand jury was convened to hear the case.
Aaron Thompson’s former attorney, David Lane, has said Thompson does not know how Aarone disappeared.
District Attorney Carol Chambers has said not all the counts in the indictment relate to Aarone, whose body has not been found.
Seven other children had lived with Thompson and Lowe. Those children were taken into state custody after Aarone’s disappearance was reported.
The lawsuit noted that under Hannen’s decision, the public does not know who the deceased is in Thompson’s case, whether there are any other victims, and whether others participated in the alleged conspiracies.
“As a result, the public has no opportunity whatsoever to evaluate the conduct of their public officials ? both state prosecutors and the judge ? in the performance of their official duties,” it stated.