Autopsy records from Pike County killings can be withheld, court rules

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Autopsy records from Pike County killings can be withheld, court rules

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday that autopsy records in the 2016 Pike County murders may be withheld from the public until the homicide investigation is closed.

The 4-3 ruling comes in a case filed by the Cincinnati Enquirer and Columbus Dispatch against the Pike County Coroner’s office. The newspapers were seeking release of unredacted records in the case of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families who were murdered in April 2106.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, writing the majority opinion, said the coroner records fell under an exemption in the public records law that allowed governments to withhold confidential law enforcement investigatory records. In separate dissents, Justices Sharon Kennedy and Patrick Fischer said that lawmakers clearly made autopsy reports public records and the exemption does not apply.

The autopsies were conducted by Hamiltion County on behalf of Pike County, which received the final reports in July 2016. Within days, both papers requested the records from Pike County Coroner David Kessler, who denied the requests. After lawsuits were filed, redacted copies were released.

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