Columbine files to be destroyed
Victims' families want depositions made public

By Kieran Nicholson
Denver Post Staff Writer

A special room under strict lock-and-key, filled with evidence from two settled Columbine cases, is being shut down and a federal magistrate has ordered some of the materials - including depositions of the killers' parents - destroyed.

The room, in the federal courthouse in downtown Denver, was set aside in 2002 to "house particular documents and materials deemed to be worthy of special handling and security," according to court documents.

Now that the two cases have been settled, U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Coan is apparently cleaning house.

But her order has angered families of Columbine victims and others who want information from depositions of the parents of killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to be made public.

"Who are they protecting?" asked Rich Petrone, the stepfather of slain student Daniel Rohrbough. "Are they protecting the murderers' families? There should be a public outcry."


Petrone and others believe that information gleaned from the depositions could possibly prevent another Columbine tragedy from happening.

Reflecting on recent school shootings throughout the county, Petrone called the destruction order by Coan "ridiculous."

Barry Arrington, attorney for the five families who sued the Harris and Klebold families, said he'll file an appeal of the order. He has until Oct. 7.

"I am extremely frustrated and my clients are extremely frustrated," Arrington said.

Arrington said his clients paid $3,000 to record the depositions of the killers' parents.

"The government is essentially destroying our property without paying for it," Arrington said.

In the order, handed down by Coan on Tuesday, the court found that "there would be no further purpose, need or use for any of the five depositions to remain in existence because the case has been settled."

The two cases involved in the order are Mark Allen Taylor vs. Solvay Pharmaceuticals Inc.; and Brian Rohrbough and four other victims' families vs. the parents of Harris and Klebold.

In the Rohrbough case, plantiffs took the depositions of Susan Klebold on July 29; Thomas Klebold, July 30; Wayne Harris, July 31 and Aug. 1; and Katherine Harris, Aug. 1.

On July 28, the defendants deposed Judy Brown, parent of a Columbine student at the time of the shootings. She has been a critic of how authorities, including the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, handled the department's initial response to the shooting and the subsequent investigation.

Brown tried to review her deposition at the courthouse several times since giving it, but was turned away by the custodian of the evidence room, known as the "Special Master," she said.

"I wanted to go review my deposition because I had a right to do it," she said.

Brown, like Petrone, believes the depositions should be in the public realm.

"The Harrisses have never answered questions publicly and I think they should," Brown said. "We are upset. It is disturbing that they are trying to get rid of evidence so fast in this. It's a coverup."

In the order, Coan ruled that "Mrs. Brown was deposed by the Defendants as a fact witness and her testimony is no longer of any relevance or import to the case."

Destroying transcripts of depositions is an unusual step, noted Craig Silverman, a local attorney and former prosecutor who has followed the Columbine case.

"I have never heard of that happening before," Silverman said.

After the case against the parents of the killers was settled on Aug. 12, Dawn Anna, the mother of slain student Lauren Townsend, released a statement on behalf of all five victims' families. It said that they were "not satisfied with many of the answers" the parents of Harris and Klebold gave.

At that time, Anna urged the public and the media to seek the release of the depositions, which were sealed.

"When the families publicly stated that they wanted the information released despite a protective order, that had to raise red flags with the judges overseeing the case," Silverman said Thursday.

That may have played a part in the order to destroy the depositions, Silverman said.

"You can't leak what doesn't exist anymore," he said.

On Aug. 26, documents and materials in the evidence room that had belonged to the Harris family were removed by their attorneys.

Case materials turned over by the Klebolds - including family photographs, videotapes and other documents - were not kept in the evidence room. Instead, they were housed in the office of the Klebolds' attorney, Gary Lozow.

Evidence submitted by the Jefferson County School District will be destroyed by the court, with the district's permission, according to the order.

Representatives of the county and the sheriff's office retrieved material from the evidence room.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 Columbine High School students and one teacher on April 20, 1999, before taking their own lives.