The release of the grand jury transcript in the Sierra LaMar murder case reopened painful wounds for family, friends and the many volunteers who still search regularly for the child's body more than two years after her disappearance.
But the transcript in this horrific case, like all criminal cases, needed to be disclosed.
Keeping judicial proceedings public is the bedrock of our system of justice. It protects the right of the accused and the victims to fair treatment, and it honors the community's right and obligation to observe how the wheels of justice turn -- particularly in death penalty cases like this one.
The Bay Area News Group fought for that principle when lawyers for the accused, Antolin Garcia-Torres, fought to keep the transcript of the February grand jury proceeding secret because it could taint the jury pool.
Last month, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Griffin M.J. Bonini found no legal justification for secrecy.
The case against Garcia-Torres is damning. Some of the graphic evidence in the transcript was new even to Sierra's family. The defendant's lawyers said disclosure of the evidence would force a change of venue, but Bonini ruled that was highly improbable in a county of 1.8 million people. The defense did not appeal.
The 15-year-old's disappearance on her way to a school bus stop in Morgan Hill was every parent's worst nightmare. The Santa Clara County sheriff's department quickly identified Garcia-Torres as a suspect, found evidence linking him to three attempted kidnappings in 2009 and kept him under 24-hour surveillance for months before arresting him, hoping he would lead them to the body.
District Attorney Jeff Rosen took the case to a grand jury, which issued an indictment, and called for the death penalty.
We would prefer grand jury proceedings be held in public, at least in cases of intense public interest, like police shootings of civilians. But at a minimum, the public needs to see the transcript showing what led to an indictment. In this case, there was strong public interest in the evidence. Volunteer searchers are scouring the transcript for clues to the location of Sierra's body.
But more broadly, there's a fundamental principle at stake: Transcripts need to be disclosed because the certainty of transparency is a powerful influence to keep prosecutions ethical and above board. Public access to this proceeding is critical to maintaining trust in the criminal justice system.
At a time when information and innuendo are disseminated in countless ways over the Web and through social media, it's important for Americans to stay grounded in verifiable facts.
News organizations like this one always have fought for transparency. It's a responsibility we believe serves the public interest and the cause of justice.