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Judge denies motion to bar release of Jan. 8 autopsies

A motion by prosecutors to bar the release of autopsy reports on the victims of the Jan. 8 mass shooting has been denied by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns.

The ruling, issued Wednesday and filed Thursday morning, does not mean the autopsies will necessarily be released, the judge wrote.

"The government’s motion presumes that the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office is either poised to release them voluntarily or legally obligated to do so. The Court has no proof of this," Burns wrote.

Defense attorneys for Jared Lee Loughner had concurred with the motion, filed Monday, to bar the release of the autopsies.

Burns called the move premature. "Absent, however, some indication that the release of the autopsy reports is imminent or inevitable, or absent a legal challenge to the Medical Examiner Office’s unwillingness to release the reports, the Court is not inclined to intervene at this point," he wrote.

"The release of the autopsy reports isn’t... a foregone conclusion. The Medical Examiner’s Office is well within its rights, at least initially, to deny the media’s request for their production," Burns wrote.

Prosecutors also asked the judge to bar staffers of the Medical Examiner's Office from making public statements on the case.

Burns denied that request, too, saying that there is no evidence that anyone from the office is prepared to speak to the media about the autopsies.

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The prosecution "certainly hasn’t taken the Court through the rigorous legal analysis that is required before a prior restraint on speech can be justified. The mere fact that media entities have requested the autopsy reports doesn’t support the government’s conclusory assertion that hypothetical extrajudicial statements 'pose[ ] a serious and imminent threat of extensive prejudicial publicity,'" he wrote.

Burns denied the motion without prejudice, meaning it can be refiled.

"Either the government or the Defendant may renew the motion — hopefully with supplemental evidence and better legal argument — when or if it becomes apparent that the parties’ right to a fair trial is truly in peril," Burns wrote.

Loughner, 22, was indicted in the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and two of her aides, Ron Barber and Pamela Simon, in what authorities call an assassination attempt on the congresswoman.

Federal charges in the deaths of Arizona's chief federal judge, John Roll, and Giffords aide Gabriel Zimmerman are expected soon, authorities have said. Charges in the deaths of the two were dismissed earlier for procedural reasons.

Local charges in the deaths of Christina-Taylor Greene, Dorothy Morris, Phyllis Schneck and Dorwan Stoddard, and the wounding of 10 others, will likely be filed when Loughner's federal trial is over.

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