Judge orders search warrants, 911 calls to be unsealed in UNC homicide investigation

NORTH CAROLINA — After nearly two years, a Wake County Superior Court judge unsealed search warrants and 911 calls related to the homicide of a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student.

Faith Danielle Hedgepeth was found dead in her off-campus apartment in September 2012 and police sealed the records three days later. The Daily Tar Heel, Capital Broadcasting Company, Inc., The News & Observer Publishing Company and WTVD filed a motion asking the court to unseal the records.

The Durham County District Attorney’s office and Chapel Hill police have asked for the records to be sealed again every 60 days since, according to The Daily Tar Heel.

In a memorandum issued Wednesday, Judge Howard Manning unsealed most of the documents but allowed some records to remain sealed, specifically the autopsy and nontestimonial orders, which are orders that require people to provide physical samples for identification. Though the search warrants were released, Manning said some information could be redacted from them.

Mike Tadych, the media coalition’s attorney, and Paige Ladisic, the Tar Heel’s summer editor, said they understand why those redactions may be necessary.

“(Manning) made a judgment that the public’s right to know that information is still trumped by the interests of the state and bringing folks to justice and folks’ potential right to fair trial,” Tadych said.

Ladisic said the “huge blocks” of redactions are frustrating as a journalist but that police need to be able to carry out a fair investigation.

Tadych referenced the case of Eve Carson, a UNC student who was killed in 2008. Police hid from the public that two different firearms were used to kill her and used that information to vet witnesses and suspects, he said.

“Once that was revealed, we’re like ‘that makes perfect sense,’” he said. “Perhaps there’s a very similar factual scenario here.”

However, Tadych said it’s been so long since the homicide that it may make less sense to hide parts of the investigation from the public. Often information is protected so witnesses don’t flee and evidence can be protected.

“The more time passes the less that can be a predominant factor,“ he said.

Ladisic said they didn’t learn much from the new records. In a response against the media coalition’s order, the district attorney’s office filed a response in March telling the media what they had searched.

“The information they gave us in the response in March was given to us again in the form of the search warrants (that were released),” she said. “All the names in the search warrant were names we knew.”

Police hadn’t released new information since January 2013. Tammy Grubb, a reporter at The News & Observer, doesn’t expect much more.

“At this point the police are not going to tell us too much,” she said. “We were lucky to get what we got, which isn’t much. That’s going to have to be that.”

Neither Tadych, Ladisic or Grubb knew whether the media organizations planned to argue for more of the records to be unsealed or unredacted.

Contact Kass by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 126.