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Judge Will Wait to Release Papers in Thornton Trial

May 10, 1994|DWAYNE BRAY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A judge has decided against releasing a grand jury transcript and other court documents in a high-profile Thousand Oaks murder case until after he hears a motion next month to move the trial to another county, his secretary said Monday.

Superior Court Judge Charles R. McGrath's announcement comes just 10 days after he said that he intends to unseal the documents in the murder case against Mark Scott Thornton and enforce the public's right to inspect them.

The documents would allow the public to get a more complete picture of the circumstances surrounding the death of Westlake nurse Kellie O'Sullivan, who police say was kidnaped and fatally shot by Thornton last September.

O'Sullivan, 34, was the mother of a young son, and her death drew widespread public attention.

The Times, joined by the Ventura County Newspapers, asked the judge on April 30 to release the public records.

McGrath did not return a reporter's phone call seeking comment on his decision to delay release of the documents until after the June 3 change-of-venue hearing.

A grand jury on Dec. 6 indicted Thornton, charging him with murder under a special circumstance--kidnaping--that could send him to the gas chamber.

A day later, prosecutors were granted court permission to have the grand jury proceedings sealed. All other documents, including routine motions filed by lawyers in the case, were also kept secret.

A hearing to discuss the security measures to be used when the defendant is in the courtroom also was closed to the public, as were statements prosecutors filed in January explaining why the case is especially aggravated.

Attorney Glen A. Smith, representing The Times, expressed disappointment in McGrath's decision to delay release of the documents.

"The records should not have been sealed from the outset," said Smith, noting that prosecutors never showed why they needed to keep the public away from the records.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Peter D. Kossoris, who requested the seal on the documents, said he is trying to protect the defendant's right to a fair trial.

But Smith said there is no proof that unsealing the records would jeopardize Thornton's ability to have an impartial jury hear his case.

"The judiciary is an arm of the government. The defense is being provided at taxpayers' expense, and the district attorney is a public servant," Smith said. "And yet, the public is being kept at arm's length."

Thornton's attorneys could not be reached for comment.

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