PHOENIX — Attorneys for news organizations squared off in court Wednesday with prosecutors over their refusal to release documents that explain the case against a man arrested last week in a string of Phoenix serial killings.
Judge Scott McCoy said Wednesday that he intends to rule “very soon” on the media request to make public the record in the case against Aaron Juan Saucedo, who is accused of killing nine people.
Police claim Saucedo opened fire on random victims after dark in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods of Phoenix last year.
The killings terrified residents and prompted some of them to stay inside at night. Authorities said the victims were fired upon by a man who was sitting in a car or had just stepped out of his vehicle. The killings occurred over nearly a one-year period starting in August 2015.
Police arrested Saucedo last week.
They provided very little information about what evidence links him to the crimes, refusing to release a document that explains the probable cause to back up a criminal charge. Such documents are typically available to the public after an arrest.
The Associated Press, Arizona Republic and five TV stations have argued they have a right to view the document and that prosecutors could conceal specific names or details within the record if they have concerns about such information being released.
Advocates in the Phoenix neighborhood where most of the attacks occurred have also asked for more information to be released, citing an investigation into a spate of freeway shootings in 2015. A suspect spent several months in jail in the shootings before the case was dismissed by prosecutors.
Prosecutors said the documents in the current case should remain sealed to protect the integrity of the investigation and the rights of both Saucedo and the victims of the serial shootings. An attorney for Saucedo said his client opposes the release of the documents.
Saucedo has been charged with murder in one killing. He also was booked on suspicion of murder in eight other shooting deaths, but charges haven’t yet been filed in those crimes. Saucedo declared in a brief court hearing last week that he was innocent of the crimes.
Prosecutors said the investigation continues and they are still trying to determine whether to bring more charges against Saucedo, and that keeping the documents under seal will allow the case to proceed without being compromised.
In arguing her case, prosecutor Patricia Stevens pointed to recent reporting by the Arizona Republic. Reporters showed a photo of Saucedo to one of the witnesses, who told the newspaper the mugshot didn’t look like the shooter.
“By doing what they have done, they have interfered with this investigation,” Stevens said.
Media attorney Craig Hoffman said reporters did not compromise the investigation.
It’s not unusual for reporters to talk to witnesses and victims of crime as part of their news gathering efforts.
Hoffman said it wasn’t enough for prosecutors to say releasing the record would compromise the investigation. He said prosecutors would have to show how releasing the document would cause harm.
Tim Agan, an attorney representing Saucedo, said his client would like to keep the document sealed until at least Saucedo is charged with additional crimes.
Agan said releasing the document now could prejudice his client, especially if in the end he isn’t charged with the additional crimes.
The news organizations seeking the release of the records are The Associated Press, The Arizona Republic, ABC15 (KNXV-TV), Azfamily.com (KTVK-TV), CBS 5 (KPHO-TV), Telemundo of Arizona and 12 News (KPNX-TV).
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