Criminal cases of teens charged with murdering man in Cherokee T - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Criminal cases of teens charged with murdering man in Cherokee Triangle to unfold in secrecy

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Travyon Curry and Thaddeus Thomas during a court appearance on Jan. 30, 2018. Travyon Curry and Thaddeus Thomas during a court appearance on Jan. 30, 2018.
Jason Spencer died after he was shot in the Highlands on Nov. 3, 2017. (Photo provided by family) Jason Spencer died after he was shot in the Highlands on Nov. 3, 2017. (Photo provided by family)

LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – A Louisville judge has sealed the criminal cases of two teens charged with killing a man in the Highlands in November, effectively allowing a high-profile murder case to unfold without the public knowing anything about it.

On Monday, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens took the highly unusual step of sealing the entire case files of Travon Curry and Thaddius Thomas Jr., including the indictments, court motions, scheduled hearing dates and even the identifying case numbers. As is, the public will have no idea if and when a trial is scheduled or if the two men decide to plead guilty or charges are dismissed. 

The order does not say why the cases were sealed, just that the file shall not be shown "to any person without prior permission of the court." The case numbers and other identifying information were removed from public computer records. 

An employee for Judge Stevens acknowledged the judge sealed the cases, but the judge did not respond to a request for comment. 

While Curry and Thomas Jr., are juveniles, both 16, they were charged as adults last month with robbery and murder in the death of 30-year-old Jason Spencer. They were arraigned in open court.

Police arrested four teenagers, but only Curry and Thomas are currently charged as adults.

Spencer was shot as he was walking with his wife on Everett Avenue near Cherokee Triangle on Nov. 3, 2017. He died at the scene. 

The action taken to completely hide the case from the public appears to violate Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr.'s 2010 order requiring that the existence of all cases be known. Even the names of the defendants have been removed from court records.

While sealing some documents in a file, such as juvenile court records, is normal, First-Amendment Attorney Jon Fleischaker said sealing an entire criminal file is "entirely improper" and the judge's order should at least explain why it was done.

Without access to the reason for the case being sealed, Fleischaker said it's impossible to know whether the court found compelling reasons for secrecy that outweighed the public's right of access. 

"It's highly unusual and questionable," he said.

A spokesman for the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment. 

Attorney Karen Faulkner, who represents Curry, said she could not comment, because the case is sealed. An attorney for Thomas could not be reached for comment. 

Earlier this month, Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton signed an order allowing Louisville prosecutors to end a long-standing practice of filing evidence in criminal cases.

Prosecutors in the Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney's office had for decades been required to provide evidence to defense attorneys and make it available in a public file.

Since 2013, however, "discussions about revising the rule began" because there were concerns that advances in technology had made it easier to access the evidence and disseminate it, according to a Jefferson Circuit Court filing earlier this month by Assistant Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney Ryane Conroy.

Now, the only way the public will see evidence involving a case is if the material happens to surface in a public court hearing, or through an open records request to the Louisville Metro Police Department, which would only be fulfilled after prosecutions have concluded. 

However, that order does not allow entire court files to be sealed. 

In 2008, the Kentucky Supreme Court allowed Louisville prosecutors to seal the evidence in the murder case against Cecil New, who was later convicted of killing 4-year-old Cesar Ivan Aguilar-Cano.

However, the judge in that case held a hearing and found releasing the evidence likely would "irreparably damage" New's right to an impartial jury.

The public was still able to look at motions in the case, attend hearings and find out when the trial was scheduled.

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