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Judge orders release of Las Vegas shooting autopsy reports

Updated January 30, 2018 - 6:26 pm

A District Court judge on Tuesday ordered the Clark County coroner’s office to release the autopsy reports of Stephen Paddock and the 58 people he killed in the Oct. 1 Las Vegas massacre.

But as of late Tuesday, Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg had not complied with the order. He indicated he wouldn’t release Paddock’s autopsy report until it was “finalized.”

“I don’t believe this is consistent with what the court ordered,” said Las Vegas attorney Maggie McLetchie, who represents the Las Vegas Review-Journal and The Associated Press in their November action demanding the release of the reports. “They (the coroner’s office) have delayed this for too long, and whatever stage the coroner’s report on Paddock is in, it should be provided to the Review-Journal and Associated Press without further delay. No more games. Release the records.”

Review-Journal Editor-in-Chief Keith Moyer added: “The shooter’s body was cremated Dec. 21. How can the autopsy report not be ‘finalized’ when the body was cremated more than five weeks ago? The law is squarely on the side of the public’s right to open government.”

The coroner’s office has fought to keep autopsy reports confidential. Three weeks ago, a judge ordered the coroner to pay about $32,000 in legal costs to the Review-Journal for refusing to release public records to the newspaper.

McLetchie said Tuesday that Clark County District Judge Timothy Williams ordered Paddock’s autopsy report to be released immediately. Both news organizations agreed to receive the victims’ autopsy reports with their names removed. Fudenberg said in a statement issued late Tuesday that he would release the victims’ reports “as soon as possible.”

“The court correctly recognized the presumption of public access to records, even when a mass tragedy occurs,” McLetchie said. “(The judge) also rejected arguments by the coroner’s office that there were any privacy interests with regards to the autopsy of Stephen Paddock, let alone any that outweighed the strong presumption of access to records in Nevada.”

Fudenberg previously has ruled the 64-year-old Paddock’s death a suicide. He shot himself in the head in his 32nd-floor Mandalay Bay hotel suite. He had opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest festival, an outdoor country music concert, from the suite.

Earlier this month, the Review-Journal reported that Paddock’s body was cremated and his remains were released to his younger brother, Eric Paddock, who lives in Orlando, Fla.

The younger Paddock said he had to fly to Las Vegas to pick up his brother’s ashes because Fudenberg refused to send the remains directly to him in Orlando. Paddock said he did not understand why Fudenberg “decided to play games” with the remains.

Fudenberg maintained that he wanted to deliver the remains in a secure manner because of security concerns.

As of Tuesday, Paddock said, the coroner had not given him a copy of his brother’s report.

“It’s a shame the courts had to tell the guy to do his job,” Paddock said Tuesday.

The families of some of the victims have voiced concerns about the coroner’s delay in providing autopsy reports to them.

The brother of Andrea Castilla, a 28-year-old California woman killed during the mass shooting, said earlier this month that he was angry that his family had not received a copy of his sister’s autopsy.

“We can’t even get a response from the coroner’s office,” Adam Castilla said. “It’s been over 100 days and I’ve called at least 20 times. I haven’t gotten one call back. I feel like they’re definitely trying to protect someone or themselves.”

Michael Scott Davidson contributed to this report. Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.

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