A judge has cleared the way for the release of hundreds of pages of investigative files in the Tucson shooting rampage that killed six people and wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others more than two years ago.
An order by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns that was released Tuesday grants a request made earlier this month by Star Publishing Company, which publishes the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.
Burns had previously prevented the Pima County Sheriff's Office from releasing the records in response to a request from The Washington Post, ruling in March 2011 that Jared Lee Loughner's right to a fair trial outweighed whatever disclosures might be authorized under state law. The judge noted in his latest ruling that Loughner's fair-trial rights are no longer on the line, now that his criminal case has resolved.
It's now up to the Pima County Sheriff's Office to respond to requests from news organizations for records.
Sheriff's spokesman Tom Peine said the records wouldn't be released Tuesday. It will take an unspecified amount of time to review the documents so that confidential information, such as medical information and the names of juveniles, can be redacted, he said.
The agency hasn't started reviewing the records.
Loughner, 24, pleaded guilty to 19 federal charges and was transported back to a federal prison medical facility in Springfield, Mo., where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and forcibly given psychotropic drug treatments.
He was sentenced in November to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years, for the shooting at a meet-and-greet event organized by Giffords outside a Tucson grocery store on Jan. 8, 2011. The guilty plea enabled Loughner to avoid the death sentence.
Arizona's chief federal judge and a 9-year-old girl were among those killed in the rampage. Giffords was left partially blind with a paralyzed right arm and brain injury. She resigned from Congress last year.
Federal prosecutors, who had originally asked Burns to prevent the records from being released, had no objections to releasing the information now that Loughner's case has concluded.
But lead Loughner attorney Judy Clarke had urged Burns in court filings last week to take into account the privacy of witnesses and victims and the need to protect defendants such as Loughner from harm or a potential public backlash.
The Star said it wants the records because they contain information about how a mass shooting occurs, including how long it took Loughner to fire gunshots — an issue raised by some advocates in the debate over high-capacity pistol magazines.
The Tucson newspaper argued that the records are critical in the national debate over whether such shootings could be prevented by armed resistance, whether a mass shooting occurs too quickly to be stopped and whether people with mental illnesses should be prohibited from getting guns.
The judge noted earlier in the case that the sheriff's records include 1,600 pages of transcribed interviews from witnesses, more than 400 pages of reports and other records.
Phoenix Newspapers Inc., which publishes The Arizona Republic, and KPNX-TV had joined Star Publishing in the latest effort to get the records released.