Hartford Police Officer Robert Lawlor may get an opportunity to see the evidence that led to a grand juror's recommendation to charge him in the May 2005 fatal shooting of Jashon Bryant, the state Appellate Court decided Thursday.
The court reversed a decision by a three-judge panel that rejected Lawlor's request to see the documents, saying the panel should have given him a hearing before denying his request.
Such a hearing must be held to determine whether unsealing the investigative files and the original grand jury application filed by Waterbury State's Attorney John Connelly would be in the public interest, the Appellate Court said.
The court sent Lawlor's request to review the documents back to the three-judge panel, and ordered that it schedule a hearing.
Bryant, 18, was fatally wounded in May 2005 on North Main Street in Hartford. Lawlor, who was working with a federal agent on a gun task force, opened fire on Bryant and another man after he allegedly saw Bryant reach for a gun. No gun was ever recovered and the federal agent, Daniel Prather of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said he never saw a gun and never felt they were in danger.
In the fall of 2005, Connelly filed an application with a three-judge panel asking that it appoint an investigative grand jury to decide whether Lawlor committed a crime when he fatally shot Bryant and wounded Bryant's companion, Brandon Henry.
The three-judge panel approved Connelly's application and appointed Superior Court Judge George N. Thim to act as the investigatory grand juror. Thim conducted the investigation and concluded in a report to the panel that there was probable cause to believe that Lawlor committed a crime.
Lawlor was charged by the state's attorney's office in June 2006 with one count of first-degree manslaughter and one count of first-degree assault. The criminal charges remain pending, as prosecutors and defense lawyers have pursued their requests for the grand jury materials, which were denied by the panel on the grounds that the state law "forbids disclosure of the application and order at any time under any circumstance," court records say.
After the 20-page Appellate Court decision was released Thursday, defense lawyer Michael Georgetti said: "I think their decision is completely correct. The panel is required by law to have a hearing. It is in the public interest to allow a defendant complete access to the documents to prepare a defense."
Without the documents, Georgetti said, "we haven't been able to complete the preparation of our defense because of the secrecy."
New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington, who is prosecuting Lawlor and also sought the records according to court papers, could not be reached for comment.
In his arguments before the Appellate Court earlier this year, Georgetti argued that "each allegation of the arrest warrant application is one produced by the investigatory grand jury. If the petitioner is able to demonstrate that the investigatory grand jury was illegal in its creation or acted in excess of its mandate, the petitioner [Lawlor] would be able to challenge the evidence gathered."
The three-judge panel has 20 days to appeal Thursday's decision.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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