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Prison Legal News Sues U.S. Attorney's Office to Obtain Video of Prison Murder

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2008.
Press Release - Prison Legal News Sues U.S. Attorney's Office to Obtain Video of Prison Murder - 2008

Prison Legal News Sues U.S. Attorney's Office to Obtain Video of Prison Murder

May 21, 2008 - Prison Legal News


For Immediate Release

PLN Sues U.S. Attorney's Office for Failure to Comply with FOIA Request

DENVER, CO – On May 20, 2008, Prison Legal News (PLN), an independent monthly publication that reports on corrections and criminal justice-related issues, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Denver, Colorado against the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys to obtain public records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Last year PLN submitted a FOIA request to the U.S. Attorney's office for the District of Colorado that requested video footage and photographs related to the October 10, 1999 murder of Joey Jesus Estrella, a prisoner at the high security U.S. Penitentiary in Florence. Mr. Estrella was killed by fellow prisoners William and Rudy Sablan, who strangled him and then disemboweled and mutilated his body with a razor. Estrella and the Sablans, who were triple-celled in a small isolation cell, were under the influence of home-brewed alcohol at the time. Prison guards reportedly failed to respond to a call for help.

Video footage of the aftermath of the gruesome murder was introduced as an exhibit in open court during William Sablan's trial in early 2007. William Sablan was found guilty of murdering Estrella, but was spared the death penalty by a federal jury. Rudy Sablan was convicted for his part in the murder earlier this month but also avoided the death penalty in a verdict announced yesterday, May 20. Seven federal jurors in the Rudy Sablan prosecution indicated they felt prison officials were partly responsible for Estrella's death.

Despite the prison video footage having been shown in open court, the U.S. Attorney's office refused to comply with PLN's FOIA request. Consequently, PLN has filed suit to ensure that the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys fulfills its obligations under the FOIA statute, in order to preserve the public's right to obtain information from government officials – even when that information may prove embarrassing.

“Once more the federal government seeks to conceal from public oversight the manner in which it manages its prisons. Transparency and openness are the hallmarks of a functioning democracy and a first step towards accountability,” said PLN Editor Paul Wright.

Under the Bush administration, federal agencies have become increasingly reluctant to comply with FOIA requests submitted by citizens and members of the media, which necessitates costly litigation such as the lawsuit filed yesterday by PLN. The suit requests production of the requested video footage and photographs, as well as declaratory relief and attorney's fees and costs.

The case is Prison Legal News v. Executive Office for United States Attorneys, U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Case No. 1:08-cv-01055-MSK. PLN is represented by Gail K. Johnson of the Denver law firm Smith & West, LLC.

Prison Legal News (PLN), founded in 1990 and based in Seattle, Washington, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. prisons. PLN publishes a monthly newsletter that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners' rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has over 6,800 subscribers nationwide and operates a website ( that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related court rulings, verdicts, settlements and other documents. PLN has successfully sued the Washington Dept. of Corrections and Federal Bureau of Prisons over access to public records.

For further information, contact:

Paul Wright, Editor
Prison Legal News
2400 NW 80th St., Box 148
Seattle, WA 98117
(802) 257-1342

Gail K. Johnson
Smith & West, LLC
1860 Blake St., Ste. 420
Denver, CO 80202
(303) 391-0100