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Judge: Media can see portions of documents in U-Va. lacrosse slaying case

By the Associated Press
Wednesday, June 9, 2010; 7:36 AM

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Four media outlets seeking documents in the investigation into the death of a University of Virginia women's lacrosse player made modest progress in a court hearing Tuesday.

Charlottesville Circuit Judge Cheryl Higgins agreed that the press and the public should be allowed to see portions of court orders that sealed search warrants obtained in the investigation of Yeardley Love's death. However, over the media attorney's objection, she also agreed to let the commonwealth's attorney edit out the most pertinent information, including what was being searched.

After the editing, the orders disclose only the reasons for sealing the search warrants: preserving the court's ability to impanel an unbiased jury and protecting an ongoing investigation in a case that has attracted national attention.

"The public dissemination at this time of highly detailed information such as contained in the affidavit, the search warrant, and any return made thereon may prejudice the ability in any subsequent trial to select an impartial jury that is free form the influence of any pretrial publicity, especially information about specific evidence or potential evidence," the orders said.

Love, a 22-year-old senior, was found dead in her bedroom last month. U.Va. men's lacrosse player George Huguely is being held on a first-degree murder charge.

Roman Lifson, an attorney for the media companies, argued that "generalized and unspecified fears" about jury selection and compromising the investigation were insufficient to justify the sealing orders. He said many higher profile cases have been tried before an unbiased jury that was properly vetted.

"We've heard absolutely no evidence that impanelling an impartial jury will be impossible in this case," Lifson said.

Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Warner D. Chapman agreed to unseal in its entirety an order pertaining to three search warrants. However, the contents of those documents were reported by the press before they were sealed. The three sealing orders that were released in edited form Tuesday afternoon are linked to other searches.

The media companies ¿ The Associated Press, the Daily Progress, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Washington Post ¿ also are likely to ask that the search warrants themselves be unsealed. Higgins set a July 1 hearing on that issue.

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