Ohio high court shields full autopsy reports in slaying of 8

Legal Insight 2017/12/14 10:16   Bookmark and Share
A divided Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday rejected requests for unredacted autopsy reports from the unsolved slayings of eight family members.

The court ruled 4-3 that the Pike County coroner in southern Ohio does not have to release the reports with complete information.

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, writing for the majority, said Ohio law regarding coroner records clearly exempts the redacted material as "confidential law enforcement investigatory records."

The case before the court involved seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family who were found shot to death at four homes near Piketon, in rural southern Ohio, on April 22, 2016.

Heavily redacted versions of the autopsy reports released last year showed all but one of the victims were shot multiple times in the head, but details about any other injuries and toxicology test results weren't released.

Once a criminal investigation ends, confidential information in autopsy reports can become public records, but the process leading to a suspect can sometimes take time, O'Connor wrote.

"In order that justice might be delivered to all, patience may be required of some," the chief justice said.

The Columbus Dispatch and The Cincinnati Enquirer separately sued for access to the full final autopsies. The Ohio Attorney General's Office, which is leading the investigation, sought to shield the information, arguing that its release could compromise the investigation.

Jack Greiner, an attorney representing the newspapers, called the majority's decision "a classic case of the court making up its mind on how it wanted the case to come out and then finding a path there." He said the ruling sets a negative precedent that will allow police to put whatever they want under the "investigatory records" umbrella.
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