"Judge unseals autopsy report on Eric Harris
Document details cause of teen gunman's death, appearance on April 20
By Kevin Vaughan
Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer
GOLDEN -- A judge Thursday unsealed the autopsy report for Columbine High killer Eric Harris, revealing that the teen put a sawed-off shotgun in his mouth to end his life.
The autopsy report for the other Columbine gunman, Dylan Klebold, also should be released to the public, District Judge Henry Nieto ruled in response to a petition filed by the Denver Rocky Mountain News.
But Nieto said the document would remain sealed until July 1 to give Klebold's family time to file an appeal.
"I believe I exceeded my jurisdiction," Nieto said in making the ruling, which amended his May 28 order that sealed the autopsy reports for all 15 people who died in the April 20 assault on Columbine. The reports for the 13 victims of Harris and Klebold remain sealed.
After the ruling Thursday, Jefferson County Coroner Dr. Nancy Bodelson made copies of Harris' report available.
In addition to describing the massive head wound Harris suffered, it also provided details about the 18-year-old's appearance on the day of the assault.
When he died, Harris was wearing a white T-shirt with the inscription "Natural Selection" on its front. He also wore black combat boots and a black glove on his right hand with the fingers cut out.
It is not clear what the shirt's inscription referred to, but there is a video game with the same name. The game's World Wide Web site says it encompasses a "realm where anything can happen," a place for the "bravest of the brave and the fiercest of the fierce."
"It is a place where survival of the fittest takes a very literal meaning. ... it's the natural way, it's Natural Selection," the game's makers wrote.
The report confirmed that Harris had a therapeutic level of an anti-depressant, Fluvoxamine, in his system.
The autopsy report, however, left some questions unanswered.
For example, it did not note the time of death.
The report also does not explain what happened to the pants, ammunition vest and trench coat Harris was wearing April 20. Did investigators take them as evidence before the autopsy was performed April 22?
Investigators would not comment.
In Colorado, autopsy reports are public records. They can be sealed only if a judge determines that their release would do "substantial harm" to the public interest. Nieto originally sealed the reports after a motion filed by Bodelson that specifically mentioned 12 of the 13 victims.
It did not, however, ask the judge to seal the reports for Harris, Klebold or Isaiah Shoels, one of those who died in the library.
Marc Flink, the News' attorney, argued Thursday that the autopsy reports for Harris and Klebold should be open because their deaths -- and the questions the documents might answer -- are a matter of public interest.
"They planned and carried out what was essentially a terrorist act in a public place, a public school," Flink said. They sought a "place in infamy."
He also argued that the autopsy reports for Harris and Klebold should not have been sealed because they were not part of Bodelson's original petition. In Colorado, only the official custodian of the records -- in this case, Bodelson -- can ask for records to be sealed. Under that law, Flink said, the Klebolds' attorney didn't have the authority to ask the court to seal the report.
Harris' family did not send an attorney to the hearing and did not file any motions in the case.
Ultimately, Nieto amended his ruling.
After the hearing, Gary Lozow, attorney for the Klebold family, said the gunman's parents wanted the report sealed over "issues about privacy" and fears of "inflaming prejudices."
But he would not say whether the report would answer a final lingering question: whether Klebold killed himself or was shot by Harris. Although Bodelson ruled both deaths suicides, some investigators believe it's possible Harris shot Klebold.
Additional reporting by staff writer Lynn Bartels.
June 25, 1999 "