PARKERSBURG - Doddridge County officials remain tight-lipped on the details surrounding the shooting deaths of Fred and Dixie Spencer and their daughter P.J. and their 16-year-old son who is in custody.
Wood County Prosecuting Attorney Jason Wharton said juvenile case records are by and large confidential, according to state law. Wharton noted records of juvenile proceedings are not public records and, according to code, "shall not" be disclosed to anyone unless otherwise authorized.
"As a general rule, juvenile records are confidential in nature and shall not be exposed," he said.
But that shouldn't preclude a Doddridge County prosecuting attorney from answering a Freedom of Information Act request.
Doddridge County Prosecuting Attorney Brooke Fitzgerald ignored a Freedom of Information Act request from The Parkersburg News and Sentinel related to a triple homicide involving Fred and Dixie Spencer and their daughter P.J. Spencer. The Spencers were killed Sept. 3 in their home off W.Va. 18 north of West Union. The couple's son Joseph Spencer, a junior at Doddridge County High School, has been identified as the alleged shooter.
At 3:34 p.m. Friday, The News and Sentinel received a faxed response from Fitzgerald in which she claimed exemption to the Freedom of Information Act, "without confirming or denying the existence of any currently filed documents related to this investigation."
The prosecutor added, "Furthermore, I am forwarding a copy of this response to the sheriff of Doddridge County and recommending that he do the same."
The Doddridge County Sheriff's Office has not confirmed Joseph Spencer as the alleged shooter.
The department issued a release stating the juvenile will be charged with three counts of first degree murder. News agencies throughout the state have attempted to speak with Fitzgerald in the wake of the homicides. The prosecutor has not made herself available for comment.
Wharton said the prosecutor cannot identify juveniles in cases -even when that person's name becomes public knowledge.
An exception, Wharton said, is if the case is transferred to criminal court. For that to happen, the juvenile must be 14 years of age and committed the crime of murder. The transfer is also the discretion of the prosecutor, who has to file a motion requesting the transfer of the case.
"The prosecutor has the option to leave it in the juvenile jurisdiction of the court, if they chose to do so," he said.
The News and Sentinel filed the FOIA request Sept. 5, requesting a copy of the criminal complaint related to the triple homicide. Wharton said there is no criminal complaint in a juvenile case.
"Criminal complaints are used only in adult cases," he said. "It's a petition in a juvenile cases."
According to state code, officials are required to respond to a FOIA request within a maximum of five business days. Violation of the state's FOIA act is a misdemeanor and can result in up to 10 days in jail and up to $500 in fines.
Wharton said his response to the FOIA would have been a multi-part rejection of the request.
"If we received your FOIA, I would have sent a response stating: We received the request and no such document (criminal complaint) exists. ...
"No such document exists, all records are confidential by statute, unless they meet certain expectations," he said.