Who had the French Laundry’s stolen wine?

On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, 76 bottles of wine worth at least $300,000 were stolen from the French Laundry in Napa Valley, Ca., one of the most famous restaurants in the country.

Sometime this week, the Napa Valley Sheriff’s Department came to get them back from a private cellar in Greensboro. The sheriff’s captain won’t say who had them, telling Robert Lopez of the News & Record: “The person who had it was an unsuspecting or unwitting buyer,”

Is the captain withholding the name of the person who had the wine to protect an innocent, or is the person more a part of the investigation than we know? We don’t know. We do know that the person’s name will come out as the investigation continues, but for now, nada.

It’s the talk of Greensboro, if you’ll allow me that cliche. Who has such an intense interest in rare, expensive wine? What collector would actually receive the wine without knowing that it had been stolen? Or perhaps he or she did know it and alerted the police. And how glamorous this makes Greensboro!

Here’s the question for those who like to think about those things. Say the person is innocent and had nothing to do with the theft and was horrified when he or she discovered it.

Do we have the right to know his or her identity?

If you’re a news editor, the answer is yes. Or, at least, to me, it is yes. It’s of intense public interest, the person has a major role in a crime or the solving of a crime. And yes, it’s one helluva crime story with a Greensboro figure, if not in the middle of it certainly standing close enough to the middle to touch it.

But there is a respectable case to be made to withhold the name. If the person doesn’t want his or her name released. If the person can make the case that doing so will embarrass him or her, or it will put him into some sort of danger. It is an argument that journalists hear all the time.

So, if the person is an innocent in this case, does the public have the right to know his or her identity?