Malloy Signs Bill To Withhold Homicide Photos, Other Records, After Newtown

The bill applies to all homicide cases - not just Newtown - and will block photos and videos of homicide victims. (Michael McAndrews)

"The more we understand about our ugliness, the better chance we have to overcome that ugliness. Suppression of horrific conduct, as this bill dictates, invites history to repeat itself. ... With sadness, I say that history will show that this well-intentioned bill is a large mistake."

Meyer made his comments in a printed statement, to which he attached famous journalism photographs depicting: Vietnamese girl running in terror after her clothes were burned off her by napalm; the killings at Kent State University; the police abuse of Rodney King; and recent injuries after the bombing at the Boston Marathon.

Tercyak struggled to find the right words to explain why he voted no in the House, and it came down to his objection to bypassing the normal legislative process that includes a public hearing and taking time to study an issue. "I'm just sick about this,'' he said. "We had a conversation about gun control, we had a conversation about mental health. I thought that the idea of 'let's have a moratorium while we have a conversation about this idea' was a good one. And I'm heartsick that we didn't....The people of Connecticut deserve to have a voice in the conversation about this too."

At stake, Tercyak said, was the very foundation of our democracy. "Open government's the bedrock,'' he said, sounding weary as his colleagues walked by. "Some principles are just always there and the reason people can trust our government and our police departments is because we don't have secrets."

Balancing the needs of crime victims with the principles with open government is "never easy,'' he said. "I don't know if it's ever harder than this."

Lincoln Quoted

Williams, D-Brooklyn, introduced the bill in the Senate by saying that it "balances important and critical interests. Behind me … are some of the parents and relatives of those who lost loved ones at Sandy Hook. The interests that we balance are critical to them, but they're also critical to our democracy. Abraham Lincoln said, 'Let the people know the facts and the country will be safe.' Walter Lippmann said the 'theory of a free press is that the truth will emerge from free reporting and discussion, not that it will be presented perfectly and instantly in any one account.'"

But "at the same time … Justice Louis Brandeis many years ago recognized an essential right to privacy in the United States" which Williams said has evolved over the years. Williams said that in a 2012 federal appeals court decision in the case Marsh v. County of San Diego, Judge Alex Kozinski concluded "a mother has a constitutionally protected right to privacy over her child's death images." That right is protected under the U.S. constitution, Williams said the judge declared, adding that "few things are more personal than the graphic details of a close family members tragic death."

McKinney, R-Fairfield, the legislature's chief proponent of the bill, said "the intent of what we're doing here is very clear – that the public disclosure of the an image of the dead body of a brutally murdered child, or spouse, or sibling would cause emotional harm and violate the personal privacy of the parents and other surviving family members."

"One does not need to see the photos to understand the unwarranted pain and anguish it would cause a parent or other family member to see such photos published and appear on the Internet every time someone searches 'Sandy Hook' or 'school shooting'", said McKinney, whose Senate district includes Newtown.

"In this case it is our clear intent that the privacy interests of the victims and their families outweigh any public interest in the disclosure of the photos of the Sandy Hook victims. This is narrow protection offered in this bill," McKinney said. "And it is not unusual or novel. Federal freedom of information laws as well as old English common law have long recognized the privacies interests of crime victims and their families."

Deal Was Elusive

About 8 p.m on Tuesday, the situation had been unresolved; days of negotiations among legislative leaders and the governor's office had still not brought a final compromise.

At the time, McKinney said: "We are where we've been for the last couple of days, continuing to have a dialogue about trying to see if we can accomplish something to protect families of Newtown from disclosure of the photographs of the victims — and try to do it in a way that's extremely narrow, to protect what is a very, very important freedom of information law in the state of Connecticut. We haven't reached that goal line yet, but we're going to continue to work forward."

He had just emerged about from a meeting with the other three top Democrat and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, the governor's chief of staff, the head of the Black and Puerto Rican caucus, and at least one parent -— Hockley —— of a first-grader killed in the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

Legislative leaders filed out of the meeting in McKinney's third-floor office in the state Capitol with serious faces and little to say. McKinney was the only one who answered reporters' questions — and he did so for just under 10 minutes.

"I think we're going to get something done before adjournment" on the Newtown bill, McKinney said, . referring to the scheduled close of the five-month 2013 legislative session adjourns at midnight Wednesday.

The governor's office, Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane and legislative leaders had secretly been talking for more than a month about a bill that would have given families of the Newtown victims veto power over the release of any photos or video images of victims' injuries, as well any verbal descriptions of those injuries. The proposal also would have blocked release of audiotapes of 911 calls and other police radio transmissions, but would have made transcripts of those tapes available for 50 cents a page.

Word of the planned bill was kept secret from the public until May 21, when The Courant obtained a copy of an email written by a Kane assistant about it. Other emails showed the secret discussions dated back to at least April 3, bypassing the normal legislative process that includes a public hearing.

As conceived by Kane, it would have applied to such records and audiotapes in all criminal cases, not just Newtown. But then it was narrowed to apply only to records from the Newtown tragedy. Under the proposal, the Newtown town clerk wouldn't have had to release victims' death certificates, contrary to the state's Freedom of Information Law, and the names of witnesses under 18 could be deleted from police reports.