Newspaper files lawsuit to gain access to murder records

GEORGIA — A newspaper filed suit this month in the Superior Court of Clarke County under the Georgia Open Records Act to gain access to information on the murders of two University of Georgia students.

Athens Banner-Herald reporters want to investigate the pair of unsolved murders using police files, but their efforts have encountered resistance from the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.

According to state law, any public citizen can access any record “prepared and maintained or received in the course of the operation of a public office or agency.” Those holding the record must make a decision within three business days whether or not to contest access to the file.

The police department has denied reporters’ requests for access to records on the murders of Jennifer Stone and Tara Baker, citing that the files are part of an ongoing investigation.

Jennifer Stone was found strangled in her apartment on April 23, 1992, according to the Red & Black, the University of Georgia’s student newspaper. Tara Baker was discovered by firefighters in her apartment when they responded to a fire at her residence in January 2001.

“We disagree with the police department on their definition of ongoing investigation,” Banner-Herald executive editor Jason Winders told the student newspaper.

Davis Dunaway, the Athens Banner-Herald‘s attorney, said the police department has 30 days to respond to the complaint.

“We are still waiting for the Athens-Clarke County Police Department to file its responsive pleadings,” Dunaway said. ” At that time we will be able to further assess this dispute.”

He said potential outcomes include a hearing before the judge or the judge making a decision on whether or not releasing the information would harm the police department’s investigation.

Sandi Turner, a spokesperson for the county speaking on behalf of the police department, said her department does not comment on pending litigation.

No hearing date has been set in the case, according to a superior court clerk.

by Kyle McCarthy, SPLC staff writer