by Eric Laughlin, The Mountain Democrat staff writer © July 16, 2007

The autopsy records of a Sacramento beautician found murdered off a gravel road in Cameron Park in 1971 will stay sealed for now, but could be disclosed within months.

Bay Area Web journalist Kate Dixon’s fight to unseal an official coroner’s report in the murder case of Betty Marie Cloer continued in a Friday morning hearing in the El Dorado County Superior Court.

The hearing was set by Judge James R. Wagoner in response to a June 28 California Appeals Court ruling ordering him to release the woman’s death records for public review. Such records, unless otherwise stated by a judge, are accessible by the public per the California Public Records Act.

In addition to keeping the records sealed, Wagoner issued a July 2006 gag order barring both attorneys from talking about what’s in the report, said he plans to reply to the Appellate Court, which asked for a written response from Wagoner by July 30 if he had further reasoning as to keeping the report sealed.

Wagoner had originally issued the gag order in an effort to, what he described in open court, ensure a fair trial for the suspect, reasoning that more media coverage could taint the potential jury pool.

Sixty-four-year-old Phillip Arthur Thompson is due to stand trial for Cloer’s killing this fall. Thompson has been housed in the El Dorado County Jail without bail since not long after a cold case DNA inquiry allegedly linked him to the scene in 2003. At that time he was incarcerated at Solano State Prison in Vacaville and had nearly completed serving a 20 year term for kidnapping and armed robbery.

Journalist Dixon and her colleague Virginia McCullough said the failure to turn over Cloer’s autopsy report relates to what they call discrepancies in the DA’s case against Thompson.

“I think they want those reports to stay sealed because they know they don’t have a good case against him,” Dixon said outside of court Friday. “There’s some kind of motive on their part to keep it hidden — why else would they work so hard to keep it sealed?”

In Friday’s hearing Wagoner said that he stands by his original ruling, but plans to notify the Appellate Court that he will take a limited role in the debate between Dixon and the El Dorado County DA’s Office and Sheriff’s Department.

“I intend to let them know that’s it’s basically between you two,” Wagoner said. “It’s you two that have the dogs in this fight.”

Deputy district attorney Trish Kelliher, who’s handling the case, said she plans to respond formally by the July 30 deadline. She stood in court alongside an attorney for the county, present to represent the Sheriff’s Department.

Thompson’s attorney Dain Weiner has taken the position that the reports should be released. He disagreed with the idea of it hurting his client’s right to a fair trial, citing extensive media coverage the case has already received.

Thompson’s DNA was allegedly found on an item of clothing reported to have belonged to Cloer. The article had been found a reported 100 yards from her body.

The case is expected to be heard by a jury this October.

E-mail Eric Laughlin at or call 344-5064.