The people of Delphi have been on edge for nearly six years since the brutal deaths of 14-year-old Libby German and 13-year-old Abby Williams.
So the community desperately wanted some measure of closure when police announced Oct. 28 that Richard Matthew Allen, 50, of Delphi, had been arrested and charged with the murders.
But the sense of relief has been clouded by secrecy about the charges. The affidavit of probable cause, which would relate details justifying the arrest, was sealed by Carroll County Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Diener, who has since recused himself. The Indiana Supreme Court has appointed Allen County Judge Fran Gull as special judge in the case.
A court hearing is set for Tuesday to hear arguments from Carroll County Prosecutor Nick McLeland, who had asked that the document be sealed, and members of the public and media, who believe it should be unsealed.
In his initial request to seal the document, McLeland cited Rule 6 of the Indiana Rules to Access Court Records. Rule 6 establishes that, “In extraordinary circumstances, a Court Record that otherwise would be publicly accessible may be excluded from the Public Access by a Court” if dissemination of the record would create a significant risk of substantial harm or create prejudice in adjudication of the case.
The problem, of course, is that neither the prosecutor nor the court has presented the public with a compelling argument to defend sealing the affidavit. Hence, the public knows of no evidence that “substantial risk of harm” or “extraordinary circumstances” exist.
Prosecutor McLeland could argue that the probable cause affidavit should remain sealed because of an ongoing investigation into the murders, which police suggested at the Oct. 28 press conference. But the arrest of a man accused of the murders has already taken place, and no evidence has been presented publicly that the killer had accomplices.
Simply put, the ongoing-investigation argument holds no more water than the Rule 6 contention.
Special Judge Gull should move decisively to correct this miscarriage of justice at the Tuesday hearing.
Keeping the affidavit sealed would be unfair to the public and also to Allen, who was jailed for five days and had an arraignment hearing three days before authorities made his arrest publicly known. He now sits in an Indiana Department of Correction facility despite only a sketchy public justification for his detention.
Though attorneys for the news media will be putting forward arguments at Tuesday’s hearing, this isn’t just about the news media. Public record laws are designed to protect the accused and the public interest. In this case, they did neither.
Meanwhile, the people of Delphi are still on edge, not knowing what led to Allen’s arrest. Was he taken into custody based on an airtight case or flimsy evidence?