Mecimore said police requested the documents be sealed to protect the integrity of the investigation.
“There are a lot of details that only someone involved would know, outside of our investigators,” he said.
“It’s useful in interviewing folks to not have the general public know those details,” he said. “It could compromise our investigation.”
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said sealing several entire documents — especially 911 calls — is unusual in most cases.
“The law recognizes in very narrow circumstances that it’s OK to seal records,” LoMonte said. “That doesn’t justify a blanket sealing.”
Chapel Hill police have said they don’t believe the slaying was random or that the community faces a threat.
But as of Tuesday night, no arrests or suspects had been announced in the case. A cause of death also has not been released.
Chapel Hill police set up a tip line for people to provide information related to Hedgepeth’s death, and Mecimore said they are investigating leads.
LoMonte said police often benefit from releasing information about investigations.
“When you have an unsolved murder, there’s definitely a duty for either the police to either warn people or reassure people,” LoMonte said.
“You don’t want people to dangle in uncertainty.”
Raleigh attorney Hugh Stevens, of the firm Stevens Martin Vaughn and Tadych, which has represented The Daily Tar Heel in court, said sealing documents in cases like these is not unusual.
“We’ve seen it with some regularity in high profile homicide cases,” Stevens said.
“Generally speaking, the justification is that releasing information impedes investigation into finding the perpetrator.”
Chapel Hill police and Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall also had several documents — including search warrants and an autopsy report — sealed after the murder of Student Body President Eve Carson in 2008.
“Sometimes it’s very much justified depending on the facts, but you don’t know the facts because it’s sealed,” Stevens said.
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