Dispatch files new arguments in case seeking Pike County autopsy reports

From The Columbus Dispatch The Pike County Coroner cannot withhold the final autopsy reports of eight Rhoden family members killed nearly a year ago because he never discussed those reports with law enforcement officials, The Dispatch argued in a court filing on Friday.

That's important because Coroner David Kessler has said the reports are confidential law enforcement investigatory records, and that releasing them could jeopardize the investigation. But Kessler is not a law-enforcement officer and testified that he never discussed with law enforcement whether the records contained confidential information, the newspaper's lawyers argued in a filing with the Ohio Supreme Court.

"Kessler testified that at no time did any law enforcement personnel inform him or advise him that ... the autopsies contained confidential information or, if disclosed to the public, would have had any effect on the ongoing murder investigation," Marion Little, attorney for The Dispatch, wrote in the filing. The newspaper is seeking release of the documents under Ohio's Open Records Act.

Eight Rhoden family members — Dana, Hanna, Kenneth, Gary, Clarence "Frankie," Christopher Sr., Christopher Jr. and Hannah Gilley — were shot in the head. Seven were shot more than once. No arrests have been made in the April 22, 2016 killings.

After The Dispatch sued in August seeking access to the autopsy reports, Kessler released heavily redacted versions in September.

"The evidence now being presented to the Supreme Court clearly supports the position we have taken from the start — that autopsy reports are public records," said Alan D. Miller, editor of The Dispatch. "It demonstrates that autopsy reports are routinely made public in Ohio during the course of active investigations.
"Our goal with this legal action is to ensure that public officials follow the law and, more specifically to Pike County, that they provide access to public records that could shed light on the circumstances — and perhaps even the perpetrators — of a high-profile, unsolved homicide case."