Editorial: Court must make autopsy reports public in Christopher Watts case

The Greeley Tribune: Last week, The Tribune, in conjunction with media partners across Colorado, filed a motion in Weld District Court seeking to make public the autopsy reports in the murder trial of Christopher Watts.

Autopsy reports long have been considered public documents. In fact, it took an unusual motion from the Weld District Attorney’s Office to keep the reports secret in this case.

There are good reasons autopsy reports, like other public documents, are public, and courts consistently have agreed.

In the motion filed Thursday, Steve Zansberg — a First Amendment attorney with Ballard Spahr LLP in Denver who represents The Tribune and its media partners — argued the Weld County Coroner’s Office, not the district attorney’s office, is the official custodian of the autopsy reports because they were “made, maintained or kept” by that office.

Any attempt to seal the autopsy reports from the public must therefore be initiated by Weld County Coroner Carl Blesch in a new legal action that is separate from Watts’s ongoing criminal proceeding, Zansberg argued.

“These aren’t criminal justice records, they’re public records, and if the coroner wants them sealed, he needs to abide by the statute and file a separate petition,” Zansberg said.

If Blesch were to file that motion, he would have to prove releasing the autopsy reports would result in “extraordinary injury to the public interest.”

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