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Nebraska Supreme Court reverses judge's ruling, closes access to child killer's drawings

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LINCOLN, Nebraska — An author who sued the state for access to a serial child killer's prison drawings didn't show good cause under state law for inspecting and reproducing the drawings, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The ruling reversed a Lancaster County District Court judge's decision last year ordering the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services to grant Mark Pettit access to drawings of John Joubert, whom Nebraska executed in 1996.

Pettit, of Atlanta, has sought for more than 25 years two drawings created in prison by Joubert. Pettit is a former Omaha reporter and author of "A Need to Kill: The True-Crime Account of John Joubert, Nebraska's Most Notorious Serial Child Killer."

Joubert was convicted of fatally stabbing two Bellevue-area boys, ages 12 and 13, weeks apart in 1983. Following his conviction in Nebraska, a jury in Maine found him guilty in the 1982 slaying of an 11-year-old boy there.

Pettit had contended the public has a compelling interest and a right to see the drawings, which he and others say graphically depict Joubert's fantasies about killing children. The Sarpy County Attorney's office, which prosecuted Joubert, had supported the release of the drawings to Pettit.

Prison system officials have refused, citing state confidentiality laws, and appealed the lower court's order to release the items to Pettit.

On Friday, the state's high court cited Nebraska law, which deems prisoner files as confidential and forbids them to be open to public inspection "except by court order for good cause shown." The question, the high court said, is whether Pettit established a logical or legally sufficient reason to have access to the drawings.

"We conclude that he did not," Justice William Cassel wrote for the court. "In essence, Pettit and the Sarpy County Attorney ... believed that the drawings had historical value and that the public had a right to know about the drawings. But as we have already explained, this is not an 'open records' provision. Thus, their views or opinions cannot enlarge the purpose defined by the statute or detract from the statutory prescription of confidentiality."

Pettit said Friday that he and his attorney are reviewing any other avenues to pursue the drawings.

"(The ruling) appears to be a technical discussion of legal theories about appeals and did not address the underlying significance or importance of the public's right to know about Mr. Joubert's criminal state of mind," Pettit said.

Suzanne Gage, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Attorney General's Office, said Friday's decision "has validated our reasons for appealing the district judge's order."

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