Some court records in a pending capital murder case in Prince William County have been sealed by a Circuit Court judge.
The records under seal are discovery — or documents containing evidence — that prosecutors are required to turn over to the defense.
Judge Richard B. Potter ordered the documents sealed in the case of Larry “Bill” Elliott, 52, a Maryland man accused of shooting Robert Finch, 30, and Dana Thrall, 25, at their Woodbridge town house on Jan. 2.
The documents under seal include Prince William police reports on the case, transcripts of a police interview with Elliott and potential witnesses, and autopsy reports on Finch and Thrall.
Potter ordered the documents to be sealed before prosecutors submitted them, according to court records. Prosecutors had until Nov. 26 to file the documents.
That decision is uncommon, said Frosty Landon, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, an organization based in Roanoke that assists the public with freedom of information questions.
“It’s a highly unusual use of the process of sealing for a judge to seal the entire record when it hasn’t been requested, and the judge hasn’t even seen what the information is,” Landon said.
Generally, judges seal information if prosecutors or defense attorneys request it, or if the judge wants to review the documents privately before making them part of a public file, Landon said.
“To give a blanket confidentiality order just raises a lot of questions about whether or not the court process is open,” he said.
Potter, through a Circuit Court official, declined to comment.
Staff writer Patrick Wilson can be reached at (703) 368-7449.