Hey there- Elle here! It’s been three full days since episode 4 of ‘The Disappearance of Maura Murray’ aired, and I’m still trying to process what the heck happened. The police have FINALLY spoken….and their revelations have caused quite the reaction. Checking the Twitterverse response, for every “Ahh, ok, now it makes sense!” there seem to be two “Police are full of sh*t..and here’s why!”. You guys…can we talk about this?!
For the past 72 hours I’ve been combing through newspaper archives, interviews, and re-listening to the ‘Missing Maura Murray Podcast’ Episode 30, where Witness A, KarenMcNamara, goes into great detail telling her story publicly for the first time. I also signed up for the website ‘Reddit’ to check out the much talked about Maura Murray discussions and compiled points and thoughts. I want to compare, contrast, and just talk about some of the things police said. I want to hear your opinions too, so please be sure to comment. There is a LOT to go over, so I’m going to break this down in several posts.
The first thing I want to talk about is a comment I have seen across social media hundreds of times over the years, and that has to do with police secrecy. WHY have police been so reluctant to discuss the case with the media? I’ve never seen a case where so little is released! It seems like the public has very little to go off of, and can rarely get confirmation of facts from the police. As discussed on The Disappearance of Maura Murray, Fred Murray (Maura’s father) went as far as suing the state to get access to investigative records. The state made the argument that they believe this may be a criminal case, and public release of the records (which allegedly include 2000+ pages of investigative reports including interviews/search warrants on specific individuals, etc) were documents so sensitive in nature that releasing them could greatly harm the case. The judge ended up agreeing, and the documents remain sealed.
In last week’s episode, Prosecutor Jeff Strelzin made an appearance for a sit down interview with Maggie and Art. He’s been handling the Maura Murray case from the beginning, and has received a lot of criticism for not being open. When I first started looking into Maura’s case it made me angry. I felt like so little is known about what happened to Maura, that ANY additional information the police could publicly give may be helpful in some way. But recently something changed my mind a bit and made me understand Mr. Strelzin’s approach more, and this has to do with a New Hampshire Law that anyone heavily interested in Maura’s case should familiarize themselves with.
While researching his background I came across a YouTube video from 6 years ago from The New England First Amendment Coalition. Jeff Strelzin was a one of the guest speakers at their event, there to discuss and explain New Hampshire’s “Right to Know” law, a law that helps give the public reasonable access to meetings and government records. Specifically, he delved into when the public/media DO NOT have a “right to know”…and that is during an investigation (before a suspect is indicted), when discussing a case could cause more harm than good. I’m going to summarize everything below, but I also encourage you to listen to the talk here, as SO much of it applies to Maura’s case.
Mr. Strelzin begins his talk by discussing the Sinclair/Bowman case, which became “the guide post” for what law enforcement can and cannot do in regards to how information is shared during an investigation. In 2001, 36 year old Tina Sinclair and her 15 year old daughter Bethany went missing in western New Hampshire. At the time they were living with the mother’s boyfriend, Eugene Bowman. The Attorney General’s office (in conjunction with the State Police) began investigating. They obtained search warrants, which were sealed. In New Hampshire for a search warrant to be sealed, a motion must be filed with justification being given for why they should be sealed. The court then makes a decision. In this case sealing was approved.
Shortly after, a local NH newspaper found out that a search had been executed, and wanted to find out the details to publish the story. The paper requested that the warrants be unsealed, and this turned into a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. It was ruled that (in summarization/generally speaking) when there is an ongoing investigation where no suspect has yet been officially charged, that is justification to keep the search warrants and investigation secret. Generally, the time is limited (as arrests and charges usually happen fairly quickly, and once they get into the courtroom the information becomes public), but sometimes there are cases like the Sinclair’s (and Maura’s) that have not yet been solved. Tina and Bethany went missing all the way back in 2001, but there is still an ongoing investigation that is active. Strelzin says if they were to publicly reveal all the information and documents they have and what they know, it would very likely hurt the case. One of the reasons being suspects* would be able to find out what the AG’s office and police have. It would be showing a criminal all their cards. That could greatly damage any future charges/case proceedings. (*Note-Another confusing part of NH law involves the use of the word ‘suspect’. When asked if there are any suspects in Maura’s case, the answer from The AG’s office is always something like ‘In NH our policy is not to name suspects’. So while they very likely have a person/persons of interest if this is indeed a criminal case, they will not publicly refer to them as suspects or share that information pre-indictment. This is different from many other parts of the country. I think back to a missing child case in FL where police said within days the father was a suspect. Turns out, he wasn’t even responsible. Many other states name suspects and those they are actively investigating- NH does not).
Jeffrey Strelzin then discussed why police and prosecutors in NH “are and should be reluctant to talk to the media”. He says “New Hampshire is a different place”, while sharing an anecdote about watching prosecutors from other parts of the country on TV and cringing at how they handle investigations. He clearly isn’t a fan of the theatrics that sometimes occur when the media is involved; prosecutors holding up photos of a victim to the camera while declaring a defendant to be guilty pre-trial. Sharing a defendant’s criminal background and the details of how police obtained a confession, etc.
Now, here comes the interesting part that really explains WHY police have not talked about Maura’s case in the media very often: “[The reason I cringe] is because in New Hampshire, the rules that apply to police and prosecutors are really strict. Lawyers have to operate under The Rules of Professional conduct. There is a specific rule in NH that regulates what lawyers (prosecutors and defense attorneys) can say to the media. There’s an additional special rule just for prosecutors that limits what they can say. The thing about the specific [New Hampshire] rule for prosecutors is that it makes me not only responsible for my mouth, but it makes me responsible for the mouths that work with me and under me, meaning the police that are investigating the cases, paralegals, secretaries…I have to take reasonable steps to make sure none of those people say something I otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to say. If they do *I* am responsible, meaning the state, we’re on the hook. (This 100% explains why Strelzin was in the room for all police interviews with Maggie and Art, something he was heavily criticized for and seen by some as a conspiracy or coverup). If someone says something they shouldn’t a defense lawyer [in the present or future of the case] can file a motion to suppress. A defense lawyer can take that newspaper article [or any media statement], attach it to a motion…and get it tossed out, or dismiss the charges.” He continues “I wouldn’t say we’re ‘terrified’, but we’re very cautious and careful about what we say to the media because not one of us wants to ever have to say to a family member ‘I’m very sorry about your loved one’s case, but I spoke out of turn and that piece of evidence has been suppressed or the charges have been dropped”. So never mind the fact we can be disciplined and face consequences [such as disbarment], it can also impact our case, so that’s why in New Hampshire prosecutors are VERY careful when they talk to the media and try to make sure that the people who work with us on cases are just as careful as well.”
“The public has a right to know, and they should know what we’re doing. They pay our salaries. So often we have to do this balancing between is it ok to release this? What should we release? Is it ok to tell the public? When should be tell the public?”
He also mentions that unlike many other states, New Hampshire does not have public information officers or people who deal with the media. The lead attorney on each case is the liaison. Strelzin says he has never had media training and still gets very nervous. “In the back of our heads- just so you know what’s going on – it’s ‘Oh my God, can I say that?! Oh my God, did I just say too much?! You can’t take it back once it’s out there…. If a case has not gone to trial yet, we’re going to be very limited in what we say.”
Another interesting tidbit was his description of how media attention can affect a case, particularly the witnesses. It’s well known that witness testimony often changes as time goes on, and it’s often a result of things they have read in the media. Subconsciously, things can get mashed together and you’ll end up with very different accounts from the first statement to what they say at trial.
“It’s critical in our cases that we withhold information to have these nuggets that only we know and we’re able to use as a lie detector test with witnesses and suspects to figure out do they really know it because they were first hand witness, or did they simply go online and find it somewhere? That’s one of the tensions that exist with the public wanting to know what we know, and us wanting to protect ourselves.”
I definitely learned quite a bit about New Hampshire’s laws and regulations when it comes to open investigations, and things make a lot more sense. Since it’s now almost 1am, I’m going to hold off with the next post analyzing Cecil Smith and Trooper Mongehan’s interviews until tomorrow. (Sorry if this post isn’t perfect…it’s very late and I had a lot to write. I’ll go back and edit and add tomorrow).