Evansville Newspaper Files Motion for Release of Details in Rathgeber Case

The Evansville Courier and Press reports:

The Evansville Courier & Press has filed a motion to unseal the arrest affidavit for the man charged in the killing of Halee D. Rathgeber.

The 20-year-old University of Southern Indiana nursing student and Castle High School graduate was found dead in the early morning hours of April 24 in the parking lot of the Alcoa Soccer Complex, east of Newburgh off Indiana 66.

Isaiah Hagan, 22, was formally charged with murder and other felonies related to the slaying on Tuesday but an affidavit of probable cause detailing the evidence for his arrest has been sealed by Warrick County Circuit Court Judge Greg Granger.

However, an emergency hearing on the newspaper's motion to unseal the record will have to wait until Monday because every judge in Warrick County, including Granger, are in Indianapolis for the rest of the week for a state judicial conference, according to court employees.

Probable cause affidavits are public record in Indiana once charges are filed. Indiana law requires courts to give notice and have a hearing for the public to protest and comment on sealing records.

Media reporting on Hagan's arrest were only told the affidavit was sealed after the court made its order.

"It's a fundamental principal of our society that someone cannot be detained and kept in the dark about why without the government saying here is the information against you. The presumption is that these documents are public record. The very narrow exception is that if you hold a hearing and say here is why this record needs to be sealed," said Pat Shoulders, attorney representing the Evansville Courier & Press.

"It's a bad precedent."

Granger's order sealed the affidavit until May 15, said Prosecutor Mike Perry. He declined to release the affidavit until it is unsealed.

Perry said the affidavit was sealed because time was needed to file several search warrant returns— court records listing evidence obtained from serving search warrants. He said those search warrants had been served but the receiving parties needed time to gather the evidence sought in the warrants.

Stephen Keys, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, said it is "uncommon, but not unheard of" for arrest warrants to be sealed.

"Typically, it would be done if disclosure of an arrest warrant might tip off the target of a search warrant and lead to destruction of evidence or put officers' safety in jeopardy," Keys said.

"If search warrants are already served then I'm puzzled as to reason for sealing of the arrest warrant (and probable cause affidavit)," Keys said.

Hagan is charged with murder, felony murder, robbery causing serious bodily injury and obstruction of justice. He will be represented by public defender Jonathan Young and is scheduled to appear back in court June 5.

An autopsy found Rathgeber was shot once in the head. There were no other significant physical injuries on Rathgeber's body, according to the Warrick County Coroner's Office.
 


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