Oklahoma medical examiner's office won't release Mitchell autopsy report

BY BOB DOUCETTE bdoucette@opubco.com Modified: December 4, 2010 at 12:11 am •  Published: December 4, 2010
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Officials at the state medical examiner's office say that even though their report on the death of homicide victim Julie Mitchell is a public record — and that the law may require it to be open to public viewing — they don't want to release it too soon for fear of compromising the investigation into her death.

“It was the decision yesterday (Wednesday) not to release anything in the file,” Cherokee Ballard, spokeswoman for the agency, said Thursday.

“The premature release of the report could impede the investigation.”

But Ballard conceded the state's Open Records Act indicates the contents of the report, even though it's not complete, may be public records now.

The body of Julie Mitchell, 34, was found Nov. 2 in a closet at her home at 640 NW 150. The case has drawn a lot of attention over the circumstances surrounding her death.

Her 1-year-old daughter was found in the home, uninjured but covered in her mother's blood.

The death was initially called in as a suicide by one of her stepsons.

Her husband is heavily involved in gambling, some of which may be illegal, police said.

An anonymous letter given to select metro-area television stations reportedly contained information about the case.

Publicity on Mitchell's death has made the news media keen to learn new details, with most attention lately focused on the medical examiner's report. Multiple news media organizations, including The Oklahoman, formally have requested the autopsy report.

But even if the report is public record, Ballard said, Andrew Sibley, the interim chief medical examiner, has decided the integrity of the investigation takes precedence.

In a prepared statement released Wednesday, Ballard said: “It is Dr. Sibley's belief that the premature release of further details may interfere with the ongoing investigation and subsequent prosecution.”

On Thursday, she summed it up, saying, “We absolutely do not want to mess up an investigation.”

Open to everyone or no one

Oklahoma City police are investigating Mitchell's death. No arrests have been made.

DNA samples have been taken from Mitchell's husband and requested of his sons and one other person, the husband's lawyer said.

In terms of the medical examiner's report, a police spokesman said detectives have not seen it. The spokesman said it would be bad if the report is published in the news media before investigators see it.

“They won't release it to anyone,” Oklahoma City police Capt. Patrick Stewart said.

“They won't even release it to the homicide unit until it's done.”

Stewart said enforcement of the Open Records Act should be applied equally and not favor one party over another.

“It's either open, or it's not,” he said. “It can't be just open to the media and not everyone else.

“We want consistency in how the Open Records Act is followed.”

Stewart likened this case to how police release or withhold crime reports. Unapproved reports aren't given out until they're complete, which can take anywhere from a day to a week in most cases.

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