AIKEN - The Augusta Chronicle and another newspaper are seeking to reverse a judge's decision to seal the divorce records of a North Augusta couple - a decision made two days after the husband suffocated his two young sons and killed himself.
Jim Holly, an attorney for The Chronicle, and Jay Bender, a Columbia attorney representing The Aiken Standard, argue in papers filed Tuesday in Aiken County Family Court that the sealing was illegal.
The attorneys filed separate motions asking Family Court Judge Peter R. Nuessle to reconsider his decision to seal the divorce records of Terry Lee Young and Karyn Young.
"We're challenging whether or not there's a legal justification for sealing the records and whether the process was followed for doing so," Mr. Holly said.
On Jan. 8, Mr. Young suffocated his sons, 4-year-old Ryker and 7-year-old Gunner, before shooting himself in the head, North Augusta police officials say.
The three bodies were found in the 45-year-old father's bed that evening, after the boys' mother called police because Mr. Young was late in returning the children from a weekend visit.
Mrs. Young had filed for divorce Dec. 27.
Mr. Bender said the closed records could shed new light on incidents leading up to the murder-suicide.
"You can't know the system worked until you have the available information that was before the court," said Mr. Bender, who is also an attorney for the South Carolina Press Association. "In a democracy, the citizens are not obligated to take the government's word that the government did everything they could have."
Judge Nuessle's order states that attorneys for both parents asked that the documents be closed, "considering the tragic situation at this time and in the interest of human dignity of the plaintiff."
Judge Nuessle also cited a "prospective law enforcement action," although North Augusta authorities say the case is essentially closed.
Dennis Sodomka, the executive editor of The Chronicle, said that in asking to open the court records the newspaper is defending residents' right to access public information.
"We do not have a prurient interest in what's in the files, and we don't even know if we would write a story about what's in there," Mr. Sodomka said. "But the material may be in the public interest, and if there's anything relevant in the file, the public has a right to know."
Judge Nuessle was out of the county Tuesday, and an assistant said he does not grant interviews to the media.
The judge has 10 days to decide whether to hold a hearing on the matter, Mr. Bender said.
Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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