COLUMBUS, Ohio – According to a ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court, a Cincinnati newspaper should have been granted the opportunity to review records involved in a 2016 Pike County murder case.
The court ruled the Cincinnati Enquirer should have had access to review, but not copy, preliminary autopsy reports of the 2016 murder of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruling reversed a Fourth District Court of Appeals decision in favor of Pike County officials, who claimed a reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer was entitled only to a publicly released, heavily redacted version of the reports. The county concealed information, citing two Ohio laws that exclude confidential law enforcement investigatory records from the public.
The opinion noted that the newspaper requested to inspect records that are considered non-public. The Court found that R.C. 313.10(D) carves out an exception that allows a journalist to request the right to inspect “preliminary autopsy and investigative notes and findings, suicide notes, or photographs” made by the coroner or by anyone acting under the coroner’s direction.
“The language of R.C. 313.10(D) does not condition that right of access in any way, and the right of access certainly does not depend on whether the records in question are confidential law-enforcement records,” the opinion stated. “Indeed, the statute accounts for the possibility that the materials might be sensitive materials by denying journalists the ability to copy the materials.”
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Patrick F. Fischer, and Mary DeGenaro joined the opinion. Justice Sharon L. Kennedy concurred in judgment only. Justices Judith L. French and R. Patrick DeWine did not participate in the case.