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)

Heavy Criticism

However, heavy criticism arose from newspapers and freedom-of-information activists. They objected not only to what the bill would do, but also to the fact that such a significant change in the law affecting freedom of information would be negotiated in secret.

Since then, lawmakers have tried to adjust the proposal to meet resistance that has surfaced, particularly among House members.

Williams had said repeatedly that it is important to preserve public disclosure of police audiotapes including 911 calls.

One hang-up Tuesday night in the negotiations among legislative leaders appeared to be whether all emergency-call tapes would be released, or whether parts that are explicit about victims' injuries would be deleted and reduced to written transcripts before being disclosed.

Families of the Newtown victims had been at the Capitol in recent days, pushing for protection of their loved ones' memories by preventing disclosure of both images and audiotapes of emergency calls related to the massacre in which 20 first-graders and six women were shot to death by Adam Lanza, 20, who then killed himself.

Pressure To Expand

There was recent pressure to expand the bill beyond the Newtown case, so that the measure would block the same records in all criminal cases. That pressure has come from critics including the state's victim advocate and members of the legislature's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus. They have questioned the fairness of granting such protection only to the Newtown families – and not to the families of the victims of more-common and less-publicized killings that often happen in urban areas.

One solution discussed would be to block the disclosure of photos and images of murder victims in all homicide cases, based on federal law and precedent, but to preserve public disclosure of 911 call audiotapes in all cases. But that was not close to being certain Tuesday night.

McKinney said that the "single most important priority" of Newtown victims' families "was making sure that the photos of their children are not released."

Although police departments do not release photos and most mainstream news organizations don't publish them even when they become evidence in criminal trials, McKinney and Newtown parents have said they're worried about Internet bloggers and conspiracy theorists who might do it. They've noted that documentary filmmaker Michael Moore also has called for release of the photos to call attention to the need for gun control.

Beyond preventing release of photos and video images, the families' "priorities go down from there," McKinney said.

McKinney said his own view is that release of murder victims' photos should be prohibited in all cases, not just Newtown. "I'm a parent of three children and I don't think any parent should have to worry about their son or daughter's photos, who've been murdered, being released publicly and splashed all over the Internet."

Asked about whether he thinks tapes of 911 emergency calls should be released in all cases — as has been discussed as part of the possible compromise language that blocks all homicide photos — McKinney said this: "My personal opinion is that I personally would redact audio portions that would depict [victims] or voices of children and put that onto a transcript, and not redact any other portion of a 911 tape."

He said lawmakers have been looking at a U.S. Supreme Court decision a decade ago in a case about photographs in the death by suicide of Clinton White House aide Vince Foster. McKinney said the decision extends protection to the victim's family and "talks about an unwarranted invasion into the right of privacy ... if there's no legitimate purpose for the pictures."

McKinney said looking at that decision "gave us a direction that it is appropriate in certain circumstances to say that the right to privacy for the victims of homicide trumps the public's right to know. ... Again, the Vince Foster case dealt with photographs," not tapes of emergency calls.

Late Tuesday, Chris VanDeHoef, executive director of the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association, issued this statement: "There is no proposal at this late hour to review, so I can't comment on specifics, but CDNA urges caution while legislative leadership and the governor's office looks at making changes to the [Freedom of Information Act] in response to the tragedy in Newtown. The legislature is against the clock and we hope that whatever is proposed is done so with all thoughtfulness about the importance of open government and the public's right to know."

Courant staff writer Daniela Altimari contributed to this report.