A lawyer for two Kansas parents tried to convince a judge Tuesday that there is sufficient public interest in their son’s disappearance almost 30 years ago to justify releasing some law enforcement records from that case.
The parents, Harold and Alberta Leach of Linwood, and attorney Max Kautsch say the records would finally reveal whether the Leavenworth County Sheriff’s Office conducted an appropriate investigation after Randy Leach, then 17 years old, vanished in 1988 and was never heard from again. The parents have raised concerns over the years that the investigation was mishandled.
But they have been unable to get those records because in Kansas, ongoing cases can be considered open indefinitely, making it difficult to obtain records. Their plight was part of the The Star’s recent series on secrecy in Kansas government and how it affects citizens.
Leavenworth County Judge David King said he would review the approximately 2,000 pages of records created before 1993 — all of the pages the parents are seeking — to determine whether or not they are in the public interest.
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“Got to have hope, got to have hope,” Alberta Leach said after the hearing. “We’re further now than we ever were, but I don’t know. I do believe we have some roadblocks.”
To support the argument for disclosure, Kautsch presented dozens of news articles about Randy Leach. Much of the hearing — some of it contentious — was spent discussing whether media reports are admissible evidence to prove public interest.
“There’s no better way to prove what’s in the public (interest) than by looking at the newspapers at the time,” Kautsch said in court.
David Van Parys represented the county and sheriff’s office and argued against disclosure. The only witness he called, Lt. Josh Patzwald with the sheriff’s office, said the case is ongoing. He testified that disclosure would hinder law enforcement in the future.
Kautsch contended Patzwald provided no evidence to support the claims.
In addition to news articles, Kautsch and the Leaches supplied 12,800 signatures from a petition circulated in 1990. The petition called for continuing the investigation of Randy’s disappearance.
Kautsch also called Robert Marble, who testified that he was once considered a prime suspect in the case. He was never charged.
“Releasing the official record ... would answer a whole host of questions that have been brought up in this matter,” Marble said.
It is unclear when the court will make its decision in the case.
“I’m guardedly optimistic,” Kautsch said after the hearing, “but the law gives the judge lots of discretion, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”