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Court urged to order release of Newtown shooter’s belongings

March 1, 2018

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A newspaper lawyer urged the Connecticut Supreme Court on Thursday to allow reporters to examine some of the Newtown school killer’s belongings, saying information on a possible motive for the 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults is of high public interest and concern.

The requested materials include a spreadsheet ranking mass murders and a notebook titled “The Big Book of Granny.” The notebook contains a story that shooter Adam Lanza wrote in fifth grade about a woman who has a gun in her cane and shoots people and another character who likes hurting people, especially children.

The Hartford Courant and the state Freedom of Information Commission are appealing a decision by a lower court judge, who ruled in 2016 that state police don’t have to release Lanza’s documents. The commission had ordered state police to release the materials, saying they didn’t fall within exemptions to the state’s public records laws.

Lanza, a 20-year-old with troubling mental health issues, shot his mother to death at their Newtown home before killing 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. He killed himself as police arrived at the school.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the appeal Thursday. A decision isn’t expected for several months.

“These are matters of public concern,” William Fish, a lawyer for the Courant, told justices.

Andrew Julien, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Courant, expanded on that point after the hearing.

“We are seeking these documents through the court because we think they will shed light on what was in the mind of a mass killer,” Julien said. “We think these documents are important because they may contain warning signs, they may contain red flags that could become part of a prevention strategy that could be used to prevent shootings like this from ever happening again.”

A report by the Connecticut Child Advocate said Lanza’s severe and deteriorating mental health problems, his preoccupation with violence and access to his mother’s legal weapons “proved a recipe for mass murder.”

At issue is whether Adam Lanza’s belongings must be released under the state Freedom of Information Act, or whether they are exempt from disclosure. Also among the arguments is whether the materials, which were seized from Lanza’s home under a search warrant, are even public records at all.

State Assistant Attorney General Steven Barry told the court that the items being sought by the Courant don’t qualify as public records, and even if they did they were exempt from disclosure. He also cited the 2016 lower court ruling by Judge Carl Schuman in the state’s favor.

Schuman said state law shields from public disclosure all seized property not used in criminal prosecutions. He wrote that his decision was important because it will apply to all future cases in which public disclosure is sought for highly private and personal documents not used in criminal trials that police have seized from victims, witnesses and suspects, including diaries, medical records and phone records.

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