The state Supreme Court has granted The Colorado Independent’s emergency petition for help in the fight to unseal records about prosecutorial misconduct in a death penalty case. Today’s ruling marks the latest twist in 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler’s office’s efforts to hide records about its professional and ethical missteps in the capitol case against Sir Mario Owens.

The 33-year-old was found guilty of the 2005 killings of Vivian Wolfe and her fiancé, Javad Marshall-Fields, son of Rhonda Fields, now a state senator from Aurora. He and co-defendant Robert Ray are two of the three prisoners on Colorado’s death row.

Under Brauchler’s and his predecessor Carol Chambers’ watch, a judge has ruled, prosecutors wrongfully withheld evidence that could have helped Owens’ efforts to defend himself at trial and to appeal his conviction and death sentence. Still, retired Senior District Court Judge Christopher Munch ruled that, had the evidence been produced at trial, it wouldn’t have led to a non-guilty verdict, and so prosecutors’ misconduct didn’t warrant lifting Owens’ death sentence.

Late last year, The Independent sought court documents detailing DAs’ misconduct, but those records have been sealed from public view. Brauchler’s chief deputy wrote to Steve Zansberg, the lawyer representing the publication, to say his office fears that the documents, if unsealed, would be used “to gratify private spite or – promote public scandal” and “to serve as reservoirs of libelous statements for press consumption.”

Zansberg and colleague Gregory Szewczyk argued that journalists – and all Coloradans’ – have the First Amendment right to inspect court records, and that under state law judges have to make sound legal justifications if denying that right.

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