Why are court records sealed in the Delphi murders?
A judge in Indiana could make a decision on Tuesday over the public release of secret court records containing evidence that resulted in the arrest of a man in connection with the 2017 murders of two young girls.
Liberty German, 14, and Abigail Williams, 13, were killed; Richard Matthew Allen, 50, of Delphi, Indiana, was charged last month with two charges of murder; however, the court records were sealed at the request of the local prosecutor.
Since the start of the investigation into the double homicide in February 2017, state police have gradually provided more information. However, since Allen’s arrest on October 28, the general public and the media have demanded additional details.
On Tuesday, those calls might be returned, giving authorities a clearer picture of the murders that have plagued the town of 3,000 people in northwest Indiana, where Allen lived and worked at a nearby CVS.
The Associated Press is one of several news organizations that submitted a brief to the court on Monday pleading with Allen County Judge Fran Gull to unseal the probable cause affidavit and charge material. A hearing will be held on Tuesday in Delphi by Gull, who was appointed to the case after the Carroll County judge, where Delphi is located, recused himself.
The brief makes the following claims, among others: “To maintain government transparency and accountability—which is especially important in criminal issues” and “the public interest is best served by public access to a prosecutor’s reason for pursuing criminal charges.”
WHAT HAVE OFFICIALS DISCLOSED SINCE AN INVESTIGATION STARTED? Authorities revealed Allen’s arrest and the fact that he resided in the same neighborhood as the girls’ bodies on October 31. On February 13, 2017, a relative let the girls out along a trail close to the Monon High Bridge, just outside of Delphi, Indiana, which is roughly 60 miles (97 kilometers) northwest of Indianapolis. They failed to show up at their pick-up location hours later, and the following day their remains were discovered in a rough area close to the route.
Police have never revealed how the two teenagers, known as Libby and Abby, died or the details of the evidence they gathered, despite the fact that their deaths were judged homicides. Police refused to comment on the circumstances behind Allen’s arrest at the Oct. 31 press conference, citing the sealed records and their ongoing investigation.
Investigators revealed two blurry images of a suspect strolling on the girls’ abandoned railroad bridge shortly after the killings, along with an audio clip of a man thought to be the suspect saying “down the hill.”
In July 2017 and again in April 2019 based on videos released that month showing a suspect walking across the Monon High Bridge, authorities also produced sketches of the alleged murderer. Libby’s cellphone provided the video and audio. She was lauded as a hero by the authorities for recording possibly important evidence.
Then, in December 2021, state police made the announcement that they were looking for information from those who had touched with someone who had been communicating with young girls online using a bogus online persona. State Police reported that detectives found
The profile “Anthony shots,” according to State Police, was used on Snapchat, Instagram, and other social media sites between 2016 and 2017.
In a letter to Carroll Circuit Court earlier this month, Allen explained that he and his wife are no longer able to work and requested public defenders for the case.
THE DOCUMENTS ARE SEALED, BUT WHY?
In “exceptional circumstances,” such as when allowing widespread access may benefit or harm the public, courts may suppress data, according to Indiana law. Such petitions must be made in public and backed up by “compelling evidence,” after which a judge can either grant or deny making the material available.
According to Novella Nedeff, a professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, revealing details about the unsolved case is like “walking on eggshells” because of the media attention it received and the nearly six-year delay between when the murders occurred and when Allen was apprehended.
At the request of Carroll County Prosecutor Nick McLeland, the affidavit and charges linked to Allen’s arrest were placed under court seal.
The AP left interview requests with McLeland, but he did not respond.
McLeland referred to Allen’s arrest as “a step in the right way” at the news conference on October 31. He added that the purpose of sealing the data was to “safeguard the case’s integrity.”
“While all cases are important, the nature of this case has some extra scrutiny with it, and so we — my office, me — felt it was important to seal those records,” McLeland said.
WHAT CAN BE ARRANGED FOR TUESDAY?
The Cold Case Investigative Research Institute’s founder and director, Sheryl McCullom, a crime scene investigator, stated that sealing the papers is a “viable option” likely to protect a small town where the community members know each other. McCullom, a cold case analyst who has featured on television, said she expects the documents could be opened after the hearing and that it is uncertain how the judge would rule.
“probably, at this point, the right thing.”
“Part of going to work is courts are supposed to be public,” she said. “That’s for a reason. Everybody’s held accountable. It’s gotta be, doors open. Let people in. And I just think that’s probably, again, at this point, you know, the right call.”
Nedeff said families could be “very supportive of the investigators and being highly motivated not to jeopardize the investigation, even if it means not knowing things that they’d like to know.”
Grandmother of Libby, Becky Patty, posted a link to a petition to keep the documents confidential on Facebook. There are nearly 41,000 signatures on the petition.
Patty expressed worry that if the information was released, the news media and social media users would “broadcast it all over the world.” “We have seen throughout the last five and a half years the many innocent people that have had their lives turned upside down, pictures splattered all over, and accusations thrown out with no evidence to back them,” she wrote. “While they move on with no consideration to the damage they have done – those innocent people are left picking up the pieces and trying to move on with their lives.”
WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS IN THE INVESTIGATION, AND TRIAL?
At the Oct. 31 news conference, Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter said the investigation was “far from complete” and if any other people “had any involvement in these murders in any way, that person or persons will be held accountable.”
True-crime enthusiasts have closely followed the case over the years and have put forth many theories. Carter pleaded with people to
“subjectively interpret” the case while officers continue to gather information.
“If you choose to be critical of our silence be critical of me, not the front line,” he said.
In her Facebook post urging the records to stay confidential, Becky Patty supported McLeland and emphasized the necessity for an impartial jury in the March trial.
“I understand people want to know – and they will know – in time,” she wrote.