Photos of the nude and decapitated body of a murdered hiker, sought by a writer on assignment for Hustler magazine, will not be released, a judge in Georgia ordered Wednesday.
DeKalb Superior Court Judge Daniel Coursey issued an order restraining the Georgia Bureau of Investigation from releasing "any and all photographs, visual images or depictions of Meredith Emerson which show Emerson in an unclothed or dismembered state."
Emerson's family sought the order after learning of the request for copies of crime scene photos of the 24-year-old, attorney Lindsay Haigh said. Emerson's admitted killer, Gary Michael Hilton, received a life sentence in exchange for leading investigators to her body in the north Georgia mountains on January 7, 2008, six days after Emerson disappeared.
"We have to walk the line between open record laws and the constitutional provisions that allow women to be able to be photographed nude or in pornography when they knowingly and willingly offer their bodies for dissemination," she said.
"Meredith isn't in a position to give that kind of permission to have her exploited in that kind of venue," Chambers said. "We're not only protecting future victims of crime, we're protecting the integrity of what happened to Meredith."
The bill allows credentialed journalists, lawyers and law enforcement to view such photographs at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's headquarters, Chambers said, but not make copies of them.
Hustler did not respond to a request for comment on the judge's ruling except to say that it is exploring its legal options.
"Hustler is aware of the GBI's refusal to honor its reporter's request for copies of the Emerson crime scenes photos, which were to be used in a news story about this crime. Hustler and Mr. Flynt disagree with the GBI's position, and are currently exploring all legal options available to them should the decision be made to go forward with the story," the company said in an e-mail.
"I think that the request is sickening, disgusting, vile and I think it's very, very hurtful for this family," House Speaker David Ralston said in a Monday press conference.
First Amendment Rights
Current statute prevents the release of autopsy photos without the permission of next of kin, but a "gray area" in the law left open the question of whether crime scene photos could be released, Ralston said.
"I am a big proponent of open government. This goes against the grain for me. But in this case, when you have these kind of photographs that depict victims of crime where there may have been sexual assault or mutilation of the body, I just think it goes beyond the pale," he said. "We're going to narrow it to those situations so we don't have this kind of situation again where we pause and wonder is this something we have to release or not."