Clutter case documents should go to the state.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and the son of a former Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent who became the agency's director disagree on the question of who owns some documents, photos and journals related to the Nov. 15, 1959, murders of Holcomb's Herb Clutter family.

The court will decide the issue, but at this point we agree with Schmidt, who contends the materials are the property of the state, through the KBI, and should be returned.

The issue arose when the documents, journals and crime scene and autopsy photographs appeared for sale through an online auction site earlier this year. At Schmidt's request, a Shawnee County District Court judge issued a restraining order last month blocking the sale. Schmidt subsequently filed a lawsuit against the former KBI agent's family seeking return of the materials.

Ronald Nye, the son of former KBI agent and director, Harold Nye, contends the photos and documents offered for sale were copies of originals still in KBI files. The copies were his father's personal property and even had "Property of Harold Nye" written on them, Ronald Nye says. The crime scene photos in question already have been returned to the state.

Other materials also should be returned.

Making a copy of something and putting a name on it doesn't transfer ownership of the duplicated information or image. If it did, public and private organizations that maintain confidential files on anything from investigations and personnel to product development and trade secrets would be at the mercy of their employees. ...

KBI case documents and photographs belong to the state, as do any copies made by the agency's employees. An agent who investigated the Clutter murders has no personal claim to copies of any material developed as a result of that investigation.

The journals may present a gray area if they contain writings not connected in any way to the Clutter case. If they are a "work product," however, they, too, probably belong to the state rather than the former agent.

Certainly, the duplicated photos and documents belong to the state and should be returned.

-- The Topeka Capital-Journal