Saturday, November 12, 2011

Brian Terry case sealed in federal court

The case of the people accused of killing U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry is completely sealed in federal court, so Americans cannot learn how justice is being conducted in a matter with intense public interest and serious political implications.

“Yes, the case is sealed,” Debra Hartman, spokeswoman from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego, said in an e-mail.

When a case is sealed, the public and the media cannot see evidence, hear testimony or learn about court rulings and arguments.

Terry and members of his tactical unit got into a midnight shootout on Dec. 14 with a group of suspected banditos near Rio Rico. Terry died. A suspect named Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, who suffered a gunshot wound, was arrested at the scene.

Here is what has been made public to date:

Osorio-Arellanes was charged initially with illegal entry in a case that is published on PACER, an online database of federal court filings. But that case was terminated when Osorio-Arellanes and several unidentified co-defendants were secretly indicted April 20 for murder by a federal grand jury.

Three weeks later, a judge temporarily unsealed the indictment, which lists co-defendants whose names were blacked out because they had not been apprehended. Since then, the entire case has been invisible. A clerk at the federal court in Tucson confirmed that the file is sealed, including the judge’s reason for closing it. Even the docket is hidden from public view, so a search for U.S. vs. Osorio-Arellanes turns up no record of the homicide prosecution.

Peter Scheer, a lawyer-journalist who is executive director at the non-profit First Amendment Coalition for open government, said blacking out a high-profile case is an “extraordinary step” that pre-empts the public’s right to monitor America’s legal system.

“The risks of abuse are very high,” he said.

Arizona Republic News

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