Pittsburgh Newspapers Lose Bid to Unseal Court Documents

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A search warrant issued in the investigation of the death of a 14-year-old boy killed with a state senator’s gun will remain sealed while a prosecutor appeals a ruling to make it public, a judge said Tuesday.

Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway ruled last week that an Aug. 9 warrant to search Sen. Bob Regola’s Hempfield Township home should be unsealed. But she kept the document sealed pending a hearing Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Hathaway said the warrant could remain sealed while District Attorney John Peck appeals her ruling to state Superior Court. Hathaway also granted a 30-day extension of the original order sealing the warrant, even though attorneys for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review argued that the document should not automatically remain sealed during Peck’s appeal.

Peck has said unsealing the warrant could jeopardize the probe into the boy’s death. Attorneys for the newspapers contend that warrants should not remain sealed, barring exceptional circumstances.

Under state law, a warrant can remain sealed for 60 days after it is served, though a prosecutor may seek to extend that in 30-day increments.

The boy’s body was found July 22 in woods behind his home with Regola’s 9mm handgun nearby. He had a key to Regola’s house next door and had been caring for the senator’s dogs while he was out of town.

Investigators have not determined whether the teenager shot himself on purpose or by accident, or if someone else fired the single shot that killed him. No criminal charges have been filed in the shooting or any events related to it.

State police searched Regola’s home, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, and took a computer and a safe. At Peck’s request, Hathaway sealed the warrant when it was issued.

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