Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Media Agencies Intervene to Unseal Records in Prisoner’s Wrongful Death Suit

On November 4, 2005, Earl Krugel was killed while exercising on the recreation yard at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Phoenix, Arizona, a medium-security facility.

Krugel, an activist for the Jewish Defense League, had been prosecuted and convicted for his role in a plot to bomb a California mosque and the office of Republican Lebanese-American Congressman Darrell Issa. He was sentenced to 20 years.

His untimely death came at the hands of David Frank Jennings, a known white supremacist. Krugel was murdered a mere three days after his transfer to FCI Phoenix, when Jennings bludgeoned him to death with a piece of concrete.

Prison officials had failed to classify Jennings as a member of the Aryan Brotherhood despite his gang-related tattoos, and had downgraded his initial high-security designation so he could participate in a substance abuse program at FCI Phoenix. Jennings was charged with murdering Krugel and received a 35-year prison sentence in March 2008.

Following Krugel’s death, his widow sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, alleging that the Bureau of Prisons had improperly classified Jennings by sending him to a medium-security facility.

A two-day bench trial was held in July 2009, and the federal judge over the case, Stephen V. Wilson, ruled in favor of the government. Almost all of the proceedings were held in secret and the courtroom was closed to the public and the press. Even the court’s written decision explaining why it had ruled for the defendants was placed under seal.

The Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, California Newspaper Publishers Association and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press intervened in Krugel’s lawsuit in August 2009, seeking to unseal the trial documents.

“It’s quite remarkable, I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it in my 25-plus years of practice,” said Kelli Sager, a spokesperson for Davis Wright & Tremaine, the law firm representing the media agencies. “Other than hearing that the ruling was for the government, we can’t find out why.”

According to prior reports, Judge Wilson decided to seal most of the proceedings in the case to protect the Bureau of Prisons’ policies related to gang management from becoming part of the public record.

On September 16, 2009, the district court ordered the trial transcript and various other documents to be unsealed, with redactions “to protect the Government’s compelling interests” in “maintaining confidentiality regarding its [gang] validation procedures or protecting the safety of a confidential informant.” See: Krugel v. United States, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:06-cv-05116-SVW-PLA.

Additional sources:, LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Krugel v. United States