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Loughner Case Autopsies Should Be Secret, Prosecutors Argue

Prosecutors asked a judge to order medical examiners not to release autopsy results in the case of Jared Lee Loughner, who’s charged in the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

Detailed information on the autopsies “could taint the jury pool,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Sue Feldmeier said yesterday in a motion in U.S. District Court in Tucson.

“This case has received extensive media coverage” and reports describing the victims’ physical trauma “may spawn prejudicial depictions of the decedents’ manner of death in the press,” Feldmeier wrote. Prosecutors are also seeking a gag order to prevent pathologist Eric D. Peters and his staff from talking about the results.

Loughner, 22, pleaded not guilty to attempting to kill Giffords and two members of her staff. U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said last month he hoped to begin a trial by Sept. 20.

Does such detail usually prejudice potential jurors? “Of course not,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Arlington, Virginia. They usually look at the information, “say, ‘Ooh, gross,’ then forget about it,” she said in a phone interview.

“I don’t quite understand” the prosecutors’ point of view, she said. “They were shot, right? There’s not a big mystery about how these people died.”

“As for telling the medical examiner to shut up,” she said, “I find the concept of a gag order to be offensive.

The case is U.S. v. Loughner, 11-cr-00187, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Tucson).

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