Judge partially unseals records in U.Va. murder case

AP News
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Posted: Mar 06, 2015 4:27 PM

FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — A judge on Friday partially unsealed the court file in a case involving a Charlottesville man charged with killing a University of Virginia student.

Jesse Matthew, 33, is charged in Fairfax City with attempted murder and sexual assault of a woman in 2005. He is charged in Albemarle County with the abduction and murder of student Hannah Graham.

Both cases have drawn extensive pretrial publicity. In Fairfax, the judge had ordered the entire court file to be sealed in response to defense lawyers' concerns about Matthew's ability to get a fair trial.

A coalition of media companies, including The Associated Press, argued Friday that sealing the file violates constitutional guarantees of a public trial.

The judge ruled that some pretrial filings can be open, but is keeping other documents under seal.

The judge, David Schell, said pretrial documents such as exchange of discovery and certain notices required by statute, such as notice of a potential insanity defense, would be kept under seal. Other pleadings, such as motions to suppress evidence, would be open for public inspection.

Schell said he needed to balance the requirements for a public trial with the defendant's right to a fair trial unmarred by pretrial publicity.

Matthew's lawyer, public defender Dawn Butorac, sought to keep the case file sealed, saying that the news media could report inaccurately on filings, or could report on potential evidence that never gets put in front of a jury, tainting the jury pool.

The media coalition's lawyer, Laurin Mills, said the judge's ruling is a good one and gives media outlets almost all of what they sought.

After Friday's hearing, Schell ordered Matthew sent back to the Charlottesville area while he awaits pretrial hearings there. Matthew was present at Friday's hearing but did not speak.