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Court rules Tennessee Bureau of Investigation files closed, even when entered as evidence

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KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — A state appeals court has ruled that a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file entered as evidence in a court case is not a public record.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/1ACiJGh) the file is being sought by the parents of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, a young Knoxville couple that was tortured and murdered in 2007 in a gruesome case that made national news.

TBI files are closed to the public under state law, but records entered as evidence in trials are open.

The file sought in this case chronicles an investigation into Richard Baumgartner, the judge who oversaw the initial murder trials.

Baumgartner later stepped down from the bench after he wound up embroiled in his own criminal cases involving prescription painkillers. His conviction led to the defendants in the murder cases seeking new trials.

Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood provided the entire Baumgartner investigative file to the defense teams and prosecutors. But he only made public 151 pages from the more than 2,000 documents contained in the file.

Blackwood said those were the pages that were relevant to his decision to order new trials for four defendants. After appeals, two defendants eventually did get new trials.

Parents Gary and Deena Christian and Mary and Hugh Newsom filed a motion with the trial court to see the entire TBI file, but it was denied. They appealed, but on Wednesday the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the earlier ruling against the parents.

An attorney for the parents says they likely will seek a review from the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The News Sentinel, which also lost a bid to obtain the file through the state court, is now seeking a copy from U.S. District Court, where it was entered unsealed.

The newspaper requested the file in July 2013. U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley has yet to rule.


Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com

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