U.S. Loses Ruling on Hatfill

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A federal judge ordered the Justice Department yesterday to release documents that explain why investigators suspected Steven J. Hatfill in the 2001 anthrax mailings. Hatfill has since been exonerated.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ordered the Justice Department to make public affidavits and related records used to persuade judges to allow federal agents to search Hatfill's property. He also ruled that the government must disclose similar records involving Hatfill's girlfriend.

In ruling for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, which were seeking the documents in a lawsuit, Lamberth wrote that the public has "a legitimate interest in observing and understanding how and why the investigation progressed in the way that it did."

In 2002, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft named Hatfill as a "person of interest" in the anthrax mailings, which killed five people and sickened 17 others. In June, the former bioweapons researcher settled a lawsuit alleging privacy violations by the Justice Department for $5.85 million. Prosecutors later officially "excluded" him as a suspect in the attacks.

Authorities now say that bacteriologist Bruce E. Ivins, who committed suicide in July, was the sole perpetrator of the crime.

-- Del Quentin Wilber

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