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Judges weigh charges of cover-up in death

Deseret Morning News | May 10, 2007
Geoffrey Fattah

DENVER — A Salt Lake City attorney's quest to prove his brother was murdered while in federal custody received a boost from judges in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, who expressed serious concern over an alleged government cover-up of the case.

"This is a terrible case," said 10th Circuit Judge Robert Henry during oral arguments Wednesday. "The federal government doesn't look well for it."

Attorney Jesse Trentadue said in his investigation into his brother's August 1995 death in a federal holding facility in Oklahoma City, he ran across what he claims was a concerted effort by the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice to cover up the circumstances surrounding the death of Kenneth Trentadue.

Jesse Trentadue claims his brother was killed during interrogation by the FBI who thought, in a case of mistaken identity, he was a suspect in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that took the lives of 168 adults and children.

Trentadue says he ran across evidence that government workers had destroyed documents and had encouraged witnesses to lie about what took place, at the instruction of top Justice Department officials, including the department's solicitor general, whose job it is to police corruption within the department.

Trentadue filed a petition with the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, asking for a formal investigation. Not having heard from the council for months, Trentadue was told that his case was dismissed but given no reason. Under the Freedom of Information Act, Trentadue petitioned to see the evidence the council was given but was rejected.

Before a 10th Circuit panel on Wednesday, Trentadue said his case goes to the heart of open government and attempts by government officials to keep things hidden.

"I think I'm here for the benefit of all people in this country," Trentadue said. He held up a copy of the report on his complaint given to him by the Justice Department to show the judges that all 54 pages were blacked out but for 55 total words.

Justice Department attorney Peter Maier said that report was part of the council's deliberative process and should not be made public. Maier said government officials need protection from the public domain in order to allow them to be candid. Making such information public would only discourage the free flow of information.

Appellate Judge Carlos Lucero said journalists and other citizens fought hard to install the Freedom of Information Act and open government. He said it appeared the government in this case wanted to hide evidence that it used to make its decision.

Trentadue pointed out that through other means, he discovered part of the 54-page redacted report included text from a very public district court ruling. If the department decided to redact a part of the report that was obviously public, he accused the government of acting in bad faith. As a citizen not privy to the information, he said the department has a lot of power and trust in deciding what information to release.

Henry said he was worried that such information was withheld.
Trentadue said the chief of the U.S. President's Public Integrity Section was also caught lying when he said the report was not made public because of an ongoing investigation. Trentadue said later that the section confirmed there was no such investigation. Since then, that official has been appointed to the federal bench as a judge.

 

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