Friday, November 4, 2011

A Wake County judge is refusing to lift his order sealing documents in the Kathy Taft murder case, despite an appeal by attorneys representing a consortium of North Carolina media outlets.

"I'm not going to strike my order, vacate my order or modify my order," Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens said after listening to arguments that the recording and documents are public records that deserve to be seen.

For investigators, the decision is what they say they need.

"There is still forensics work being done -- still detectives visiting the scene making certain they are doing everything we can," Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan said. "We have a one-time opportunity at that crime scene, and we're making sure everything is checked as thoroughly as we can." However, the chief all but admitted his detectives still have no suspects in the case.

"The department is saying that we can not rule out that it's a random act. ... If I had further information about any suspect that I was looking for -- if I had a sketch, if I had any information -- I would have already provided it to you."

For some who live in the neighborhood, the uncertainty about the case is becoming unnerving.

"I hope they figure out what's going on very soon so we can go back to being a quiet neighborhood and street," area resident Gillian Bowling said.

It was that kind of concern from the public that was part of the argument media attorneys used unsuccessfully on Judge Stephens, asking that some information from the Taft 911 calls or search warrants be released in a limited fashion to allay the public's worries.

"Look at the 911 call, look at all the contents, look at the search warrants and affidavits and all the contents and parse them to release as much as you can and redact the rest," media consortium attorney Hugh Stevens said.

The judge disagreed, saying he was going to err on the side of caution and public safety in siding with law enforcement to temporarily seal the material.

But Judge Stephens also said if Wake County District Attorney Colin Willoughby seeks an extension of that request after 30 days, the judge will have "harsh questions" for Willoughby about why that information is still being kept from the public.

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