Magnificent video footage taken at a Colorado federal prison of two inmates mocking guards and mutilating his cellmate’s body will not be published in the media anytime soon, although the videos were shown on a court open to two jurors in failed effort to obtain the death penalty against the murderers.
Tuesday’s decision by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is another setback in the feisty battle Legal news of the prison to get the full video. The document sought to provide its website with a first-hand view of what correctional officers found in 1999 when they discovered cousins William and Rudy Sablan exulting in the murder and ambush of Joey Estrella. The murder fell on the special housing unit of the USP Florence, the scene of other internal homicides and misconduct of the staff that led to Estrella’s murder.
Westword, Sixty minutes, The Associated Press and other organizations had teamed up as “friends of the court” to present brief support PLNthe petition, which confronted the right of access to public records with the “privacy interests” of Estrella’s family.
The Sabans received a life sentence for the murder. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which had wished to show images of them mutilating Estrella’s body to horrified jurors, objected to releasing the material to PLN after concluding the trials. Finally, the government released a part of the video that does not show Estrella’s body and an audio track of the censored part, minus some comments from the sablans.
PLN lawyers argued, among other things, that a government video played in an open court becomes part of the court record and that Estrella, a federal prisoner, had less “privacy interest” than a private citizen. But the appeals court ruled that Estrella’s survivors have an “independent” interest in not making the materials public, which goes beyond any right to freedom of information.
It is unclear whether the point in question is debatable enough to end a new appeal. But fundamental questions remain about the murder of the Star Decade, questions that will probably not be answered soon. Like now: What were three prisoners doing in a cell designed for one? Where did the sablans get the alcohol and razor they used in their drunkenness surgery? Where were the guards while Estrella called for help?
Sometimes, the interest in privacy protects more than the sensitivity of the unfortunate.
More information from our news archive: “Tips in prison on traps, wrists and pretending that the man with makeup is a woman.”
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