By: David Noack
News win petition for killers’ autopsies
AColorado state judge has released the autopsy report of Eric Harris, one of the two alleged killers in the April shooting attack at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.
The June 23 move by district judge Henry Nieto came after the Denver Rocky Mountain News petitioned the court to reconsider an earlier decision sealing all 15 autopsy reports, which included those of 12 students and
one teacher who were killed, along with the two teen-age gunmen reportedly responsible.
The parents of Isaiah Shoels, a victim whose autopsy report was sealed, did not join in the News’ petition request, but the Shoels recently released their son’s autopsy report voluntarily.
Nieto also ordered that the autopsy report of Harris’ alleged accomplice, Dylan Klebold, be made public July 1, giving the Klebold family time to appeal his ruling to a higher court.
News executives say they will not appeal the decision sealing the autopsy reports of the other shooting victims. But a lawyer for The Denver Post says the paper will continue seeking to open all of the autopsy results.
According to Harris’ autopsy, which was reported in the News and the Post, he killed himself after sticking the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun into his mouth.
Earlier in June, Nieto ordered all the autopsy reports in the case sealed, after Jefferson County district attorney David Thomas and county coroner Dr. Nancy Bodelson petitioned the court to keep the autopsy results of 12 victims under wraps. The request to seal the autopsy reports can be made only by the county coroner, who is the official custodian of the records.
At that time, the judge, acting in the public interest, decided to seal all of the autopsy results, which were being sought by 18 news organizations.
The Post and the News argued in court against sealing the reports, saying they could answer some questions about the shootings, the police response, and whether Harris and Klebold committed suicide or one killed the other.
News executive editor John Temple says it’s hard to argue for the privacy
of the two teens who went on the killing rampage.
“Some issues here are a matter of principle ? how can you say that people [who] thrust themselves into the limelight by murdering 13 people deserve privacy?” says Temple.
Attorney Marc Flink, who represents the News, says that since the initial petition by the coroner did not include Harris and Klebold ? although Klebold’s family asked to be part of that petition at a court hearing ? the paper argued that the judge lacked authority to seal the purported gunmen’s autopsy reports.
Post attorney Tom Kelley says he has been told to pursue the opening of all the autopsy reports.
“[The editors] are not really impressed with the distinctions being made between the [autopsy reports] that have been released and those that have not. They believe the principle is pretty much the same and that they all should be released,” says Kelley.
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