Controversy Over Huguely Search Warrants

Posted: Updated: July 15, 2010 06:07 PM EDT

The debate raged in court Thursday afternoon about public access to traditionally public documents in the Yeardley Love murder investigation, and what may have been gathered up as evidence as police zeroed in on suspect George Huguely.

A number of media outlets, including Charlottesville's Daily Progress, want access to the results of six search warrants in the case. 

Judge John McGrath of Rockingham County, who's retired but sitting in for the Charlottesville Circuit Court, ruled Thursday night that details from five-of-six search warrants issued in the wake of the Love murder should be made public, and lifted the sealing orders.

McGrath said information regarding the sixth search warrant shall remain sealed. McGrath says the documents, with certain details redacted including witness names and social security numbers, should be made available to the public no later than the close of business on Thursday July 8, 2010.

This will allow both sides of the case to make sure that his orders are being followed precisely. The timing will also allow the commonwealth's attorney's office, or lawyer's representing the suspect, to consider filing an appeal to his decision.

The warrants being ordered open include: police affidavits, warrants and return listings of what was found for the May 3, 2010 search of Love's apartment, the May 3, 2010 search of suspect Huguely's apartment, the May 3, 2010 search of Huguely's body, the May 6, 2010 search of a vehicle, and the May 7, 2010 search of another vehicle. Not included are any searches relating to cell phone or Internet service provider information.

In making his ruling, against the wishes of Commonwealth Attorney Dave Chapman, Judge McGrath cited Virginia code 19.2-54, 19.2-57 and 17.1-208 and noted that state law says the documents should be open unless good cause is shown.

All were points raised by the attorney representing the media group and all speak to the right of public access to specific court documents, including search warrants and their findings.

McGrath rejected any logic for unsealing the documents based solely on constitutional rights. McGrath also rejected prosecutor Chapman's arguments that unsealing the documents would both hurt the investigation and the state's ability to seat an fair jury.

Reported by NBC29 HD News

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