Last month police in Tennessee arrested Richard Parker, age 49, for allegedly killing his in-laws, Jon and Marion Setzer. As I wrote then, this was a shocking twist in the case from my perspective because I knew Richard when we were kids. My family had already been friends with the Parkers for years when I was born. We knew them through church and other social ties. I thought they were relatives until I was 7 or 8.
Since the first flurry of news about the case (I’d already been following it when Richard was arrested, unaware the Setzers were his in-laws) there has been very little additional coverage. Beyond recaps of the case, there was an article on a Wilson County, TN news site noting that Richard had been mysteriously moved from one holding facility to another, then nothing of significance.
Today, another mystery. This report in the Tennessean states that the Parker case has been completely sealed. That’s unusual:
It’s the first time Wilson County Circuit Court Clerk Linda Neal remembers a case completely sealed in her 16 years in the position and 32 years in the office.
“Sometimes some of the pleadings, but not an entire file,” the clerk said.
While the basic facts available in the case are strange–death by bombing is still pretty rare in personal cause homicide–they don’t on the surface hint at why police would lock the case against Richard Parker completely from public view.
Wikipedia has an entry on record sealing. It lists these reasons for sealing a record:
* Sealed birth records (usually for so-called closed adoption, in which the birthparents’ identity is usually anonymous)
* Juvenile criminal records may be sealed
* Other types of cases involving juveniles may be sealed, anonymized, or pseudonymized (“impounded”); e.g., child sex offense or custody cases
* Cases using witness protection information may be partly sealed
* Cases involving trade secrets
* Cases involving state secrets
The first bullet point doesn’t apply in the Parker case. It is unlikely the second applies, as far as I can tell. The final pair of points don’t make much sense based on what’s known about the crime for which Richard stands accused. That leaves two possibilities to which I added emphasis above: juveniles are somehow involved (Richard has four children), or there may be some need for witness protection.
In the Tennessean’s report, attorney David Raybin told reporter Andy Humbles that he’d want the files sealed to ensure protection of witnesses or informants. Raybin said sealing cases is “becoming more and more common because courts and prosecutors are becoming increasingly sensitive to the defendant’s right to a fair trial.”
“Discovery material,” Raybin said, “is not intended to be public record.”
Jon and Marion Setzer’s pastor, Mike Ripski, wrote the following in a sermon he gave on February 16, 2014, after Richard Parker’s arrest:
Last Sunday morning at the 11:00am service, Marion Setzer sat in a pew over to my right.
After worship we talked briefly about getting together for a conversation she wanted to have with me.
Ripski mentioned that Mrs. Setzer wanted to have that conversation an interview after Richard’s arrest (I was unable to find it online this morning) and also noted that Marion Setzer seemed concerned about something, but he didn’t seem to know what it was. I’m not sure why this feels like it may be relevant to the case against Richard Parker being sealed, but intuition says it could be.
Ripski wrote something else in his sermon that applies here, too:
I have learned that there are questions that don’t have answers, there are human experiences that can’t be explained or understood. We will ask the question Why? We will try to answer it. But none of our answers will ever satisfy our soul. Not really.
I’m not the most spiritual person, sometimes, too much of a doubter, but Reverend Ripski has a good point. Sometimes we have to accept unanswered questions. Where this case–and a lot of other things–is/are concerned, I hope I can do that, one day.