Supreme Court keeps Aurora death penalty case file sealed


DENVER | The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by a Colorado death row inmate who argued it is a violation of his First Amendment rights that the court file from his murder case remains sealed six years after his conviction.

Sir Mario Owen
Sir Mario Owen

Attorneys for Sir Mario Owen had asked the high court to overturn Colorado rulings that maintained his trial judge’s earlier order that both sealed the file and barred them from distributing any documents from the case, even transcripts of testimony during the trial. Owens is one of three people on Colorado’s death row.

He was convicted in 2008 of killing the witness in another murder trial and that man’s girlfriend. Prosecutors had cited that history in asking the trial court to restrict access to court records.

Owens’ attorneys said they wanted to be able to distribute the case records to publicize government misconduct.

The Colorado Supreme Court denied Owens’ request last year. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the appeal Mondau without written comment.

Media organizations are also asking Colorado courts to unseal the file, noting that the death penalty is expected to be an issue in this year’s governor’s race because of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s controversial stay of execution granted last year to another death row inmate.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado said it was disappointed in the Supreme Court.

“It is baffling that Colorado courts and now the U.S. Supreme Court have continued to deny the public access to the transcripts and other records of a death penalty case that was concluded six years ago,” Legal Director Mark Silverstein said.

“The records of criminal cases, especially where the government seeks an execution, must be open to public review and scrutiny. With questions nationwide and here in Colorado about the deep systematic flaws in administration of the death penalty, these trials should not be conducted in secret.”

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