Partial results must be made public, judge says; delay possible
January 31, 2001
Partial results of the autopsies conducted on the victims of the fatal assault at Columbine High School must be made public, according to a court order released Tuesday.
Jefferson County District Judge R. Brooke Jackson also ordered the release of the entire report of the autopsy conducted on the body of Daniel Rohrbough, whose parents claim he was killed by an officer's bullet.
But the autopsy results will not be released immediately as victims' families decide whether to appeal the ruling.
"We are reviewing the order," said Assistant County Attorney Bill Tuthill, who was conferring Tuesday with attorneys representing the victims' families.
"We have certainly been supportive of the victims' families' needs throughout this and we'll continue to do so," Tuthill said. "I need to get some feedback from them as to what their preferences are."
Jackson revealed in his order that Dylan Klebold had no drugs or alcohol in his body when he and Eric Harris carried out their April 20, 1999, rampage at the school, but he denied a Rocky Mountain News request for release of the complete Klebold autopsy.
"The fact remains that the Klebolds, too, were victims of the tragedy of April 20, 1999," Jackson wrote. "They, too, lost their son. They, too, have feelings of hurt and grief, doubtless compounded by the horror of knowing their son was a perpetrator of these acts. For the present purpose, the court finds no compelling reason to set them apart from the other victims' families."
Jackson's ruling, issued Monday but not released until Tuesday, resulted from a motion filed by Denver news organizations seeking modification of an earlier ruling by a judge who denied public access to the reports.
Jackson ordered the coroner's office to release the portions of the autopsies that deal with the "pathological diagnosis and opinions on the cause of death," saying those details "would not cause substantial injury to the public interest."
The judge also ordered the release of the complete Rohrbough autopsy because Rohrbough's parents are suing the county in federal court, alleging their son was killed by a police officer, contrary to investigative reports indicating he was felled by bullets fired by Klebold.
Jackson cited the public interest in whether Rohrbough was killed "by friendly fire" as well as whether the sheriff's office "wrongfully reported that Daniel was killed by Klebold."
Jackson notes that the Rohrboughs say the evidence contained in the report includes evidence that the trajectory of the fatal bullet proves their son was killed by a law officer, not Harris or Klebold.
"The Rohrboughs have not, and in my view, cannot, sustain their burden of demonstrating that disclosure of the report would cause substantial injury to the public interest," Jackson wrote.
News attorney Marc Flink said no decision has been made regarding further court action in pursuit of the complete Klebold autopsy report. Steven Zansberg, an attorney representing The Denver Post in its request seeking release of the autopsies of the 13 Columbine victims, said he is pleased that Jackson released some new information.
"But we are troubled by some of the limitations that he expressed in his ruling," Zansberg said.
Colorado law requires autopsy reports be made public unless disclosure of the contents of the reports "would do substantial injury to the public interest."
Jefferson County Coroner Nancy Bodelson -- joined by District Attorney Dave Thomas and the families of 12 of the 13 victims who died in the attack -- sought to keep the reports sealed, claiming their release would delay the healing process for the grieving families.