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A federal judge on Friday rejected a request by news organizations to release search warrant records and federal booking photos of Arizona shooting rampage suspect Jared Lee Loughner, saying the investigation was still under way.
But U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said he would consider releasing the materials once a superseding indictment was handed down in the case, which prosecutors said could be by March 9.
More than a dozen media outlets have asked that the photos and documents be released by the federal government under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.
Loughner, a 22-year-old college dropout, is accused of opening fire on U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and a crowd of her constituents at a political gathering January 8 outside a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona.
Six bystanders, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge, were killed, and 13 others were wounded.
Giffords, who authorities said was the principal target of the attack, was shot in the head but survived. She is recovering from her wounds at a Houston rehabilitation center.
Loughner has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of attempting to assassinate a member of Congress and attempting to murder two of her staff members.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Beverly Anderson told U.S. District Judge Larry Burns that the matter is now before a federal grand jury and they expect a new indictment by March 9.
Federal prosecutors and Loughner’s attorneys both opposed releasing the booking photos, arguing they are prejudicial to potential jurors because they make him appear guilty and that no public interest would be served in unsealing them.
The widely published police mug shot of Loughner, taken shortly after his arrest, shows the accused gunman, his head shaven bald, looking wild-eyed and smiling broadly.
Burns told the attorneys that he had looked at the mug shots and found them less prejudicial than the photos already widely available in the media and on the Internet.
“If someone didn’t tell me these were mug shots, I wouldn’t have known,” he said. “The frontal shot in this case I think is tamer than the picture circulated widely on the Internet.”
Prosecutors and defense lawyers have also asked that two search warrants and supporting affidavits remain sealed.
They argued that disclosure of some of the content, including an inventory of books, music, writings and college materials seized from Loughner’s home, could undermine his right to a fair trial. Both sides also proposed heavy editing of the documents, which the judge rejected.
Burns said much of the information in the search warrant documents already has been reported, and that it was made public after the searches by law enforcement officials.
Copyright © 2011 Reuters