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Friday, March 29, 2002 - 12:34:21 AM MST
Judge denies request from Woodwards
By TOM MARSHALL
BRATTLEBORO -- A federal judge has denied the family of Robert Woodward access to information it was seeking, dealing a setback to the family's civil suit against the town.
Judge Garvan Murtha ruled the family's attorneys must wait 60 days for evidence in the police shooting case, granting Attorney General William Sorrell's request for a temporary stay.
"The incident at issue took place recently, and this litigation has been pending in this court for less than two months," Murtha wrote. "There will be virtually no disruption to the court's docket if a stay is granted."
Woodward, 37, was shot and killed by Brattleboro police on Dec. 2 after he burst into the All Souls Unitarian-Universalist Church, asking for sanctuary from the government and threatening himself with a knife. In late January his family sued the town -- as well as the two officers who fired their weapons, Terrance Parker and Marshall Holbrook -- for negligence.
Family attorney Thomas Costello had said he would sign a confidentiality agreement in order to gain access to the knife, autopsy reports, and 911 transcripts, promising not to release evidence that might jeopardize the state's inquiry. But Murtha said there was no pressing need to grant that request before the state's investigation was finished.
"The stay requested by state parties is relatively brief," he wrote. "Granting the stay will have a minimal effect on the plaintiffs' ability to secure an expeditious resolution of this matter. Furthermore, both the state and the public have a substantial interest in having the pending criminal investigation completed without unnecessary and collateral interference."
Murtha ordered both sides to file a discovery schedule for information-sharing by June 3.
Sorrell took charge of the state police investigation into the incident in late January after State's Attorney Dan Davis withdrew over a potential conflict of interest. Since then, officials have released virtually no information on their plans, aside from a promise to eventually decide on the appropriateness of a grand jury or formal charges against the officers.
Most recently, Sorrell said in early March that he needed to re-interview witnesses in the case to fill in gaps in testimony. Those interviews were scheduled to conclude this week.