Georgia police department appealing open-records case to state supreme court

GEORGIA — The Athens-Clarke County Police Department is asking the state supreme court to overturn a court of appeals decision that opened records of a 15-year-old murder investigation.

The Athens Banner-Herald sued nearly two years ago, after police denied access to files regarding the murder of Jennifer Lynn Stone, a 22-year-old University of Georgia student who was raped and strangled in April 1992. Police said the case still was actively being investigated, so the file was exempt from open records disclosure.

A county judge sided with the police in a March 2006 summary judgment, but the court of appeals overturned the decision in March 2007.

“We find that the undisputed evidence in this case shows that there has been no progress in solving the Stone murder for several years, there is no ongoing, active investigation of the case by the county, there are no suspects … and there is only a slight possibility that the county’s submission of the DNA to a database will ever result in progress in solving the case,” the decision said.

David Hudson, the newspaper’s attorney, said in a March article in the Banner-Herald that the ruling is a victory for the public’s right to know.

“It is especially important to have public access into the operation of the criminal justice system,” Hudson said, according to the article. “Nothing can impact the public more than how crimes are investigated, prosecuted and punished.”

Davis Dunaway, another attorney for the newspaper, said in an e-mail that he does not know when the supreme court will decide whether to hear the case.