Judge refuses to open most affidavits in quadruple murder case

PARSONS, Kan. (AP) — A district judge has refused to unseal affidavits that would reveal details in the deaths of a southeast Kansas woman and her three children.

The Parsons Sun newspaper asked to review affidavits in the court file of David Bennett Jr., 22, of Cherryvale, who is charged with capital murder in the Nov. 23, 2013, killings of 29-year-old Cami Umbarger and her children, ages 9, 6 and 4.

He is also charged with first-degree premeditated murder, one count of rape and two counts of criminal threat.

Nearly all details in the case have been withheld since Bennett’s arrest. A state law that came into force July 1 establishes a procedure for state courts to make public all affidavits and sworn testimony used to support arrest warrants and search warrants.

Assistant attorney general Amy Hanley and Bennett’s attorneys objected to the request at a hearing Wednesday in Labette County District Court.

Hanley said releasing information in the ongoing investigation would be prejudicial and unfair to the victims’ families, who have not been told much of the information contained in the affidavits, The Parsons Sun reported. She also argued that the new law didn’t apply to the affidavits because they were part of the court record before July 1.

Bennett’s attorney, Tim Freden, said unsealing the affidavits could influence the jury trial and make it difficult for Bennett to get a fair trial, The Joplin Globe reported.

Max Kautsch, representing the Sun, said the new law allows the court to redact information that addresses most of the state’s concerns while allowing the court to find “a middle ground” that does not require sealing all the documents. The law requires the state to show why particular information should not be made public, he said.

“There has been no evidence that pretrial publicity has caused an unfair trial in the state of Kansas,” Kautsch said.

District Judge Robert Fleming ordered the probable-cause and search-warrant affidavits to remain sealed but all other records to become public records. He also ruled that Bennett’s medical records will remain confidential.

“I think I need to balance the rights of the public to know against the rights of the defendant to a fair trial” and the right of the state and defense to prepare their cases without prejudice, Fleming said. “I think I need to keep in mind that it’s the public’s right to know, not necessarily the individual media.”

Bennett’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 8 in Pittsburg. He remains jailed on a $5 million bond.

 

 

 

 

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