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Judge orders release of synagogue attack search warrants

Posted at 3:00 PM, Jul 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-25 18:00:12-04

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A judge in San Diego ruled Thursday in favor of media outlets and ordered the unsealing of 17 search warrants containing details about a synagogue shooting in a San Diego suburb that killed one worshipper and injured three others, including the rabbi.

Superior Court Presiding Judge Peter Deddeh said he will review the documents with prosecutors and redact the names of witnesses and investigators before releasing them next week.

Deddeh said he saw no legal reason why the warrants should remain sealed. There were no objections by prosecutors or defense attorneys.

Law enforcement obtained warrants to search the car, home and locations visited by suspect John T. Earnest.

Police say the 19-year-old nursing student opened fire at Chabad of Poway on April 27 during a Passover service. He has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder charges.

Prosecutors have said the gunman fired at least eight rounds before he fumbled with his semiautomatic rifle and fled with 50 unused bullets.

The search warrants could help answer questions including whether the suspect got a hunting license to be able to legally purchase the weapon since he is under 21.

Lawyers representing the media outlets, including The Associated Press, have argued the documents should have been unsealed 10 days after investigators filed them in court.

Other media involved in the request are San Diego outlets NBC 7, KFMB News 8, Fox 5 San Diego, and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Attorney Elizabeth Baldridge, representing the media, said unsealing the documents is important to ensure oversight of the judicial proceedings, especially in high-profile cases such as the synagogue shooting.

She wrote in court filings that mass shootings and attacks motivated by religion and race have become common in the U.S., and the "public has a substantial interest in understanding the motivations behind these crimes and obtaining transparency in the process of bringing alleged perpetrators to justice."

She added that unsealing the documents will also be "therapeutic" for families and the community.