Media Law Expert says Wetterling Records Release 'Essential to Accountability'

September 20, 2018 06:16 PM

Some KSTP viewers have questioned why the Jacob Wetterling investigative records should be released.

The Wetterling family believed they should be kept private because they contain personal information.


Media organizations - including Hubbard Broadcasting - argued the files should be made public under state law. And the Stearns County sheriff now says those records show mistakes were made in the days, weeks and months after Wetterling disappeared.

RELATED: The Wetterling Files

A professor at the University of Minnesota said that's why Minnesota law says investigative records must be released once a case is closed.

"It's not just a question of saying, 'We as journalists want this,'" Professor Jane Kirtely said. "It's that you, the public, have a right to see this."

Kirtely is the director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, which helped convince a judge that the Wetterling files must be released.

"We know with broad strokes what the outcome of this investigation was. We also know that it took many years," Kirtely said. "I think it's worth asking why. What happened? What did they do right? What did they do wrong? What was the role of the FBI? All important questions."

RELATED: 'We Can't Change What's Happened, but We Can Learn From It': Sheriff Outlines Missteps in Wetterling Investigation

Thursday's press conference and file release provided answers to many of those questions.

Stearns County Sheriff Don Gudmundson said Thursday the records show investigators focused on the wrong suspect and failed to connect key pieces of evidence.

"This is essential to accountability," Kirtely said. "Holding law enforcement accountable for what they do."

Kirtely and the Silha Center have monitored the court case ever since the Wetterlings sued last year, arguing information related to their family should be kept private.

RELATED: FBI Reviewing Its Own Wetterling Investigative Files

The Wetterlings stated at the time that "nothing that we are asking to be protected is germane to the central facts of this crime."

"It's always painful to examine those kinds of things, but those are questions that have to be asked," Kirtely said.

In the last Legislative session, a bill was proposed that would keep parts of investigations private if law enforcement does not consider it relevant to the preparation of the prosecution of the case. That bill did not pass.


Leah McLean

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