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October 26, 2002

Paper seeks autopsy data in 2001 killing

From: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Oct, 26, 2002

Barbara White Stack, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
October, 24, 2002

An attorney for an Altoona newspaper yesterday asked state Superior Court to force the release of an autopsy report in a 2001 murder case over the objections of the Blair County district attorney.

Charles Kelly, who represents the Altoona Mirror, said the appellate court previously ruled in a 1976 Susquehanna County murder case that coroner's reports must be released to the public.

He asked the appellate court to reach the same conclusion in the case of Randy Buchanan, a deaf Altoona man who was found beaten to death in June 2001.

Kelly, a former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter, asked the Superior Court panel to uphold a March decision by Blair County Common Pleas Judge Hiram Carpenter III, who said disclosure of the report "has been too long delayed already."

Although Carpenter ruled that the report should be released, he let it remain sealed while the Blair County district attorney's office appealed.

Assistant District Attorney Jackie Bernard argued yesterday that courts can order withholding such reports in rare circumstances, such as this one, to protect information in a homicide investigation.

"No one wants to preclude the public from having access to records," she said, "but in this case, the district attorney and the community have an interest in catching a killer and solving a homicide. ... So this is extraordinary."

She and Allegheny County Assistant District Attorney James Gilmore, representing the state district attorney's association, said a court has the inherent power to seal a coroner's report when its release would harm a homicide investigation, just as a court has the power to seal other documents such as search warrants.

"We only want this sealed for a reasonable amount of time," Bernard said.

Kelly said later that the sealing of documents like search warrants is specifically spelled out in law, but secreting coroner's reports is not.

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