By Jacques Billeaud Associated Press
PHOENIX — About 2,700 of pages of police reports in the investigation of the Tucson shooting rampage that wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords were released Wednesday, marking the public’s first glimpse into documents that authorities have kept private since the attack more than two years ago.
The Pima County sheriff’s department released the records from the January 2011 shooting at a meet-and-greet event outside a grocery store that killed six people and wounded Giffords and 11 others. The documents include transcribed interviews with witnesses, various police reports and other records, and could provide new insight into how the shooting occurred.
News organizations seeking the records were repeatedly denied the documents in the months after the shooting and the arrest of 24-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, who was sentenced in November to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years, after he pleaded guilty to 19 federal charges.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns had prevented the sheriff’s department from releasing the records in response to a request from The Washington Post, ruling in March 2011 that Loughner’s right to a fair trial outweighed whatever disclosures might be authorized under state law.
Last month, Burns cleared the way for the release of the records after Star Publishing Company, which publishes the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, had sought their release. The judge said Loughner’s fair-trial rights are no longer on the line now that his criminal case has resolved.
Loughner’s guilty plea enabled him to avoid the death sentence. He is serving his sentence at a federal prison medical facility in Springfield, Mo., where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and forcibly given psychotropic drug treatments.
Arizona’s chief federal judge and a 9-year-old girl were among those killed in the rampage. Giffords was left partially blind, with a paralyzed right arm and brain injury. She resigned from Congress last year and has since started, along with her husband, a gun control advocacy group.
The Star said it wanted the records because they contain information about how a mass shooting occurs, including how long it took Loughner to fire gunshots — an issue raised by some advocates in the debate over high-capacity pistol magazines.
The Tucson newspaper argued that the records are critical in the national debate over whether such shootings could be prevented by armed resistance, whether a mass shooting occurs too quickly to be stopped and whether people with mental illnesses should be prohibited from getting guns.
Phoenix Newspapers Inc., which publishes The Arizona Republic, and KPNX-TV had joined Star Publishing in the latest effort to get the records released.