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.
The decision came as state lawmakers considered legislation that would ban public release of graphic photos of crime victims. First Amendment lawyers say the legislation could have a chilling effect on open records requests.
DeKalb Superior Court Judge Daniel Coursey issued a temporary 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.
The judge’s order came on the same day the Georgia House Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously passed “The Meredith Emerson Memorial Privacy Act,” which would prevent gruesome crime scene photos from being publicly released or disseminated, according to Rep. Jill Chambers, the bill’s principal sponsor.
House Bill 1322 would prevent the release of photographs of the bodies of crime victims that are “nude, bruised, bloodied or in a broken state with open wounds, a state of dismemberment or decapitation,” said Chambers. …
The article notes that if this becomes law, First Amendment challenges will assuredly follow. I’d guess they will succeed because the countervailing privacy interests are unlikely to be given much weight. I don’t look forward to reading the words of people I otherwise respect arguing that the impact of having the photo circulated publicly on Meredith Emerson’s family and friends should not be taken into account.