Eighteen months after Faith Hedgepeth was murdered, local media outlets are pushing for answers to what happened in the last hours of the woman’s life.
Hedgepeth, a 19-year-old junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a member of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe, was found dead in her off-campus apartment on September 7, 2012. She was last seen alive at about 3 a.m. that day, after she and her roommate returned home from a nightclub.
Police have not yet released an official cause of death, and the records associated with the case—including search warrants, 911 recordings and other judicial records—have remained sealed. Three days after the murder, a Durham County Superior Court Judge sealed the records, and every 60 days since then, the County Attorney’s Office has asked that the records be resealed.
Four local media outlets now have filed a motion asking that the sealing orders be vacated.
The information sought “has been effectively under seal for nearly 18 months via a series of orders extending the duration of the sealing orders without notice or hearing,” the motion states. The media outlets include television stations and newspapers in the Raleigh and Durham areas of North Carolina and DTH Media Corporation, which publishes The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at UNC-Chapel Hill.
In the motion, the companies argue that the decision to seal the records violates the First Amendment and the North Carolina Public Records Law. The companies also argue that the courts failed to give a written motion outlining “compelling government interests” that justify the sealing and that some of the orders were issued before search warrants were even served—meaning that the orders were grounded in speculation.
A hearing date has not yet been set, but the most recent order to seal the records expires March 18.
Family members also have been kept in the dark, said Faith’s sister, Rolanda Hedgepeth.
“It’s still hard not knowing,” she said. “It was very hard to lose her, and it’s hard not knowing the details, but we have mixed feelings about whether the courts should open the records.”
The family was not included in the decision to file the motion, Rolanda said. She worries that the details of the murder might be difficult to hear.
“We don’t want the records unsealed if it’s going to jeopardize the case,” she said. “We understand that this is public record, that the public has the right to know, but frankly, not everything should be public knowledge. The details might not be that bad, but they may be horrific, and I’m not sure we’re ready to handle that.”
The Chapel Hill Police Department in January 2013 released a profile of the suspect, based on DNA collected at the scene and other evidence. The profile, which pointed to a male suspect who likely knew Hedgepeth and lived nearby, was the last official word from the police department.
Police still have not named a suspect or made any arrests, but the department has partnered with local, state and federal agencies in the investigation, said Lt. Josh Mecimore, a police spokesman. The case is still open and officers are actively working on it, he said.
“This is not a cold case,” he said. “We’re still working on this. Faith Hedgepeth is not forgotten.”
The police department does not have a say in whether the records will remain sealed, Mecimore said. Phone calls seeking comment from the Durham County Attorney’s Office were not returned.
A total of $39,000 is being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Anyone with information about the crime can call the Chapel Hill Police Department at 919-614-6363 or Crimestoppers at 919-942-7515.