It’s like clockwork.
Every 60 days, Durham County District Attorney Leon Stanback asks to have the records associated with Faith Hedgepeth’s case resealed.
And every 60 days, the public is denied another chance at knowing just what happened in the last few hours of Faith Hedgepeth’s life.
Faith Hedgepeth was a UNC junior when she was found dead in her off-campus apartment. Three days after her death, a Durham County Superior Court judge sealed multiple search warrants and a 911 call associated with Hedgepeth’s case.
On Monday, The Daily Tar Heel, Capital Broadcasting Company, Inc. and the News and Observer Publishing Company filed a motion asking the court to vacate its sealing orders.
“The information sought … has been effectively under seal for nearly 18 months via a series of orders extending the duration of the sealing orders without notice or hearing,” the motion said.
The media organizations will be represented by Stevens Martin Vaughn and Tadych, PLLC in court. A hearing date has not yet been set.
In the motion, the media companies argue the courts failed to give a written motion outlining the compelling government interests that justify keeping the records sealed, which is required under North Carolina Public Records Law and the North Carolina constitution.
The news organizations said some of the orders to seal the records were issued before search warrants were even served — meaning the orders to seal the records were at least partly grounded in speculation.
“Any urgency associated with the documents has passed,” said Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center. “If police were in hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect, then they could justify sealing the records. But if the chase is on hold or completed then a seal has outlived its usefulness.”
LoMonte said while he has experience filing motions asking for courts to unseal records on behalf of student publications, he does not have any statistics about how successful these motions typically are.
“Lengthy and indefinite sealing orders are definitely disfavored by the court,” he said. “It will face a lot of skepticism.”
Stanback was out of the office Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.
“We haven’t pushed hard for the records to be unsealed,” said Roland Hedgepeth, Faith Hedgepeth’s father who has maintained close contact with Chapel Hill Police throughout the investigation. “Chapel Hill P.D. have assured us over and over it’s necessary for them to be sealed.”
The fate of the records are scheduled to be heard again this month.
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