In the case against Robert Dear Jr., who is accused in the shooting rampage at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood office in November, the public is still being kept in the dark.
Unfortunately, El Paso County District Court Judge Gilbert Martinez wants it to remain that way. He is suppressing information that is routinely provided in the vast majority of criminal cases in Colorado, including very serious ones.
The news media, including The Denver Post, requested that Martinez unseal the arrest warrant affidavit and search warrant affidavits in the case for which Dear faces 179 felony charges, including eight counts of first-degree murder.
Dear is accused of killing three people and wounding nine others on Nov. 27. The records have been sealed indefinitely.
The public knows a lot about the tragic events that day, but many of the details that remain unknown are important not only to the community but to the national conversation around gun rights and abortion.
Dear apparently was fueled by an anti-abortion stance, based upon the target of his attack and his own statements in court since. But do the affidavits cite additional evidence or motives? And while President Obama invoked the tragedies of mass shootings in taking executive action on firearms, we still don't know the type of gun used in this shooting — or guns, for that matter — or how Dear obtained his weaponry.
Martinez, in his Dec. 30 ruling denying the request for unsealing the documents, says courts normally unseal warrants after a preliminary hearing or waiver of a hearing.
Actually, in almost every criminal case, arrest affidavits are released immediately after a suspect is in custody.
And search warrant affidavits are unsealed not long after the search is complete.
Martinez also noted that the case against Dear is still under investigation. However, the prosecution already has enough evidence to file 179 charges. And District Attorney Dan May is not objecting to unsealing as long as the victims' privacy is not compromised and aspects of the investigation remain undisclosed.
Justice works best when it is conducted in the open.
Even Dear himself in court has yelled out to unseal everything. But his defense attorneys have demanded secrecy.
Judge Martinez ordered a competency hearing for Dear, which could take up to nine months to complete. It is likely the public won't learn the official reasons for Dear's arrest until a year after the crime. This is absurd, especially in a case where the basic reasons for the arrest are obvious to all.
The information in the documents will not prejudice potential jurors, hamper the case or besmirch witnesses. But it is vital to the preservation of an open judicial system.
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