SAN FRANCISCO - Acting on an emergency petition, a federal appeals panel late Thursday kept graphic excerpts sealed from Yosemite killer Cary Stayner's confessed beheading of a park naturalist.
Attorneys argued the documents, scheduled to become public Friday, would prejudice Stayner's pending trial for three other slayings.
Without comment, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it would decide sometime next year whether to keep the documents sealed.
The documents include a confession Stayner made to authorities about the beheading of park naturalist Joie Armstrong, who Stayner killed in July 1999.
Under a plea bargain, Stayner was sentenced last month in federal court to life in prison for Armstrong's death in Yosemite National Park.
U.S. District Court Judge Anthony W. Ishii had sealed the police interrogation.
But at the request of news organizations, including The Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers Inc., the Hearst Corp., and Knight Ridder Inc., Ishii said he would unseal the records after Stayner was sentenced in the Armstrong case and gave defense attorneys until Friday to finish their appeals.
Stayner's lawyers fear those records outlining Armstrong's beheading in Stayner's own words could taint a jury pool as the motel handyman awaits trial in Mariposa County Superior Court in the deaths of three sightseers. In an emergency petition to the appeals court, the attorneys said the confession's disclosure would create ''pervasive and sensational publicity.''
Stayner pleaded innocent Wednesday to the February 1999 slayings of the three women. They were staying at the Cedar Lodge, a rustic motel just outside the park's western gate where Stayner worked.
The ravaged bodies of Carole Sund, 42; her daughter Juli, 15; and their friend Silvina Pelosso, 16, were found in a remote ravine in Mariposa County.
The Armstrong case was tried in federal court because Stayner murdered her inside the federal park. Stayner's trial in the deaths of the three women is in state court because they died outside the park's borders.
The petition to keep the records under seal is United States vs. Stayner, 00-10560.