December 29, 2005
Father Sues State, Police Over Missing Daughter
By Gary E. Lindsley
New Hampshire state and law enforcement officials are facing a lawsuit filed against them by the father of a missing 21-year-old Massachusetts woman.
Maura Murray, a nursing student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, was last seen after her car crashed on a sharp left curve near the Weathered Barn on Route 112 in Haverhill, N.H., Feb. 9, 2004. She disappeared before police arrived.
Murray left her Amherst dorm room the morning of Feb. 9 and headed north into New Hampshire. She was traveling along Route 112 in Haverhill when her car crashed.
A passing school bus driver saw and spoke with her. Between the time he spoke with her and left, and Haverhill Police arrived, a span of 10 minutes, she disappeared.
Her father has been seeking police records regarding the accident scene and her disappearance for nearly two years.
He has sought the information under the New Hampshire Right-To-Know Law as well as the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Murray has filed a lawsuit in Grafton Superior Court.
According to The Associated Press, Murray has been highly critical of police and met with Gov. John Lynch earlier this year to ask for his help in getting records of the investigation. He's now sued Lynch, Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, state police and other law-enforcement agencies seeking the release of information tied to the investigation, such as accident reports; an inventory of items taken from her car; a copy of his daughter's computer hard drive; and a surveillance tape from a liquor store where she made a purchase.
"I actually do hope to get the records," Murray said. "It is a missing person's case, not a criminal investigation, according to police. I need the records because I am still actually searching for her."
He is seeking injunctive relief stemming from an improper denial of records by an agency or official covered by the Right-To-Know Law, according to the lawsuit. He is not seeking anything but the information about his daughter's accident and disappearance.
Murray said he has been told by police and the state attorney general's office that information cannot be released because there is an ongoing investigation.
[Attorney General] Ayotte told The Associated Press Wednesday that she had not seen the lawsuit, which was filed last week, but that "we have shared whatever information we feel we can share without jeopardizing the investigation." She said that Maura Murray is still being treated as a missing person, but "it was a suspicious disappearance. We've treated the case very seriously."
"... The case continues to be pursued vigorously. Mr. Murray's had frequent contact with both my office and members of the state police. In fact, I personally met with him along with lead investigators of the state police last spring and he was assigned a victim's witness advocate from my office," who has been in contact with him regularly, Ayotte told The Associated Press.
Jeffery Strelzin, a New Hampshire senior assistant attorney general, would not comment about the lawsuit.
"I cannot comment on it because it is pending litigation," said Sheriff Doug Dutile, of the Grafton County Sheriff's Department, also named in the suit.
Murray's lawsuit seeks to determine whether the state agencies have violated the state information law.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court has determined that the Right-To-Know Law applies to all state executive branch agencies and departments, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit maintains that public records, including investigative reports produced by law enforcement, must be produced unless they fall under on one of the statutory exemptions of the law.
The exemptions include: disclosure interferes with enforcement proceedings; deprives a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication; constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy; or discloses investigative techniques and procedures.
The lawsuit alleges that state officials have denied requests for information because the case is an ongoing investigation, or would constitute an invasion of privacy.
Murray claims because state police have from the beginning classified the case as being a missing person's investigation, not a criminal investigation, the information under New Hampshire law must be provided.
A hearing on Murray's request has been scheduled on Jan. 18 at Grafton County Superior Court.
"We need to narrow things down and go in a fruitful direction," Murray said. "Do I expect to get [the information]? I don't know. I hope they don't have any influence over the court."