Judge: Documents in MLK bomb plot to remain sealed

AP News
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Posted: Apr 07, 2011 8:52 PM
Judge: Documents in MLK bomb plot to remain sealed

Documents related to the arrest of a man in the planting of a bomb along a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade route will remain sealed for now, a federal judge said Thursday.

U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush said he was concerned that the release of the documents would make it difficult for Kevin Harpham, 36, of Addy, to receive a fair trial.

Harpham, who has extensive ties to white supremacist groups, was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an unregistered explosive device. He faces up to life in prison if convicted of planting the bomb, which was found and disabled before it could explode.

The judge said the documents in question, which include details of the FBI investigation that led to Harpham's arrest on March 9, likely contain information that would be inadmissible in the trial. "Hearsay is not admissible," Quackenbush said.

The ruling came after three news organizations, including Cowles Publishing Co., The Associated Press, and The Seattle Times, requested the public release of files that were given to the defense as part of the discovery process. They contended that since those materials have been given to Harpham, there was no reason to keep them from the public.

Cowles Publishing, which owns The Spokesman-Review newspaper, argued that the affidavit for the criminal complaint and grand jury material should be released. A separate motion to release the documents was filed by KXLY-TV of Spokane.

The government contended the news organizations have no right to grand jury materials.

The judge, who said he had not read the requested documents and did not know what they contained, said his main concern was a fair and speedy trial for Harpham. The press was free to report on the evidence presented at the trial, he said.

"I do recognize the importance of the First Amendment and the role the press plays in informing people," Quackenbush said. "I don't see that the press's role will be diminished if the information in the complaint is disclosed after the trial."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Harrington argued in court documents this week that the danger of impairing an ongoing investigation, the risk of "prejudicial pretrial publicity" and the privacy interests of third parties are sufficient reasons to keep the documents sealed.

Harpham's right to a fair trial may outweigh the public's right to pretrial proceedings, Harrington also argued.

"There already is pre-trial publicity," said Steven J. Dixson, attorney for The Spokesman-Review. "There would be a marginal effect from additional publicity."

Harrington said he has given 2,014 pages of documents to public defender Roger Peven. Harrington also revealed that the FBI seized 75 more pieces of evidence on March 25, but did not provide details.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, has said that Harpham made more than 1,000 postings on a website used by racists called the Vanguard News Network. The center has said that Harpham belonged to a neo-Nazi group called the National Alliance.

Harpham served from 1996 to 1999 in the U.S. Army at what is now Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, Wash. His lawyers have said Harpham had not been recently employed.

He remained in custody at the Spokane County Jail without bail. Trial was scheduled to begin May 31.