Over the last 10 days or so, the Times Herald (and public) have been given access to court documents and access to the proceedings involving a murder case in Washington. We are relieved that our fight for access seems to be over, and for the most part we are encouraged that our fight has enlightened, if not educated, the law enforcement arm of Daviess County.
Criminal cases can’t simply be slapped shut at the courthouse without public notice, and hearings must be held, according to state law. We do commend Daviess Superior Court Judge Dean Sobecki for eventually setting the hearing in the motion to seal for the case, which led to the subsequent brief filed with the court, and ultimately access to the case.
Daviess County Prosecutor Dan Murrie ended up turning over a second amended Probable Cause Affidavit in the case against Logan Evans, an 18-year-old accused of using a shotgun to kill another Washington teenager, Devan Burris. Also, the court docket for Evans has since been opened to the public.
While we have not been able to view the original Evans affidavit, the newspaper has been able, following its fight, gained access to the court proceedings for not only Evans, but accused co-conspirator Lucas Benjamin.
And the case against defendant Heaven Berry, who is Evans’ cousin, has also been opened. Berry is accused of helping Evans hideout the weekend following the Friday early morning shooting back on Dec. 6.
It is important to note that the newspaper did not go to the trouble to file briefs with the court, hire an attorney, and make a fuss about public access simply to flex its muscle.
We take our role as Daviess County’s No. 1 public watchdog very seriously.
Court information, including charges, motions, dates and even cause numbers in this murder case were unavailable to the public. We felt a pending criminal case where a 17-year-old had lost his life, and the lives of three other young adults hang in the balance, was a matter of significant public interest.
From the start, these cases should not have been locked down. If an important murder case in our community doesn’t warrant public access, what would?
Indiana’s Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act are in place for a reason. Public access and transparency, as granted under Indiana law, are important to the newspaper. But they should be important to all Hoosiers.
We hope this will not happen the next time a high-profile case comes before the public in this county.