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Leaking of Newtown details poor policy

Published March 25. 2013 4:00AM

It's been more than three months since a young Newtown man shot and killed his mother and then drove to his former elementary school where he used a powerful semiautomatic weapon to slaughter 20 small children and six adults in the most vicious crime in Connecticut history.

Yet it may be three months more before the State Police complete and make public their official report on the mass murder. This shouldn't be.

Nor should we be hearing previously unknown details about the shootings from high ranking state police officers at police conventions in New Orleans or Las Vegas. Some of the indiscreet confidence sharing was from the same top cop responsible for assembling the long delayed report, a report spokesman Paul Vance tells us will not be ready until sometime in June.

To date, most of what Connecticut citizens know about the killings comes from what they have read and seen with their own eyes in the news media. The State Police have reported that after killing his mother with a handgun, Lanza used an AR-15 Semiautomatic rifle and 30-round magazines to kill 26 children and adults before killing himself with one of the two semiautomatic handguns he carried.

The guns were legally purchased by his mother, Nancy Lanza, but we have not been told how the killer gained access to them. We know little about him, his activities and his mental state, though we have been warned that questionable privacy laws will not be waived despite this awful crime.

A reluctance to reveal information in unsolved crimes is proper and understandable, but in this case, the guilty party is known and is dead. Yet, in his zeal to maintain secrecy, Danbury State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky asked a Superior Court judge to deny requests from news organizations to unseal warrants and affidavits in the case with the incredible argument that arrests are not anticipated, "but have not been ruled out."

Judge John Blawie agreed, ruling "the state's interest in continuing nondisclosure substantially outweighs any right to public disclosure at this time." As The Hartford Courant responded, "That's not a reason. That's a conclusion." Secrecy has also fueled the conspiracy theorists and other rumor mongers on the Internet and elsewhere.

As the Connecticut General Assembly, the U.S. Congress and many other legislative bodies consider post-Newtown, remedial gun legislation, they are relying on what has been reported in media accounts regarding the killer's mental health, his addiction to video games and his fascination with mass murderers and their methods. But they are also subjected to those often unreliable and inaccurate theories and reports on the Internet.

All of this boiled over when an unidentified police officer attending the International Association of Police Chiefs Convention in New Orleans told The New York Daily News about revelations made by Connecticut State Police Col. Danny Stebbins. In a talk billed as early lessons learned in Newtown, Col. Stebbins reportedly revealed for the first time that Lanza had been collecting data on mass murderers for years and had created a seven-by-four-foot spreadsheet with information on about 500 killers, their victims and the guns they used.

Neither families of the victims nor legislators who had been refused updates on the case had been told about the spreadsheet or its data and House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, for one, had had enough.

Cafero said it was irresponsible for Stebbins to be giving strangers at an out-of-state meeting information denied to families and legislators "trying to craft a reasonable compromise." He called on Stebbins to issue an interim report, a request echoed by a grumpy Gov. Malloy, who said the state's attorney would issue a brief report on March 29 while wondering, as "a former prosecutor," why legislators need to know so much.

Since the governor presumably knows as much as the State Police, this seems to be an unwarranted slur aimed at legislators trying to vote thoughtfully on serious gun legislation. But, at least the governor responded to Rep. Cafero's request and we can expect what is sure to be a brief report of some kind on Good Friday, when the Capitol is closed and much of the public is distracted by Easter activities.

Meanwhile, high ranking police officials might consider staying home and concentrating on finishing the report about this awful crime before again taking their secrets on the road.

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