COLUMBUS (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday once again rejected requests for unredacted autopsy reports from the unsolved slayings of eight family members.
The court ruled 5-2 without comment against reconsidering its December decision that the Pike County coroner in southern Ohio does not have to release the reports with complete information.
The case before the court involved seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family who were found shot to death at four homes near Piketon, in rural southern Ohio, on April 22, 2016. No arrests have been made or suspects identified.
Heavily redacted versions of the autopsy reports released in 2016 showed all but one of the victims were shot multiple times in the head, but details about any other injuries and toxicology test results weren’t released.
In the 4-3 December ruling, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, writing for the majority, said Ohio law regarding coroner records clearly exempts the redacted material as “confidential law enforcement investigatory records.”
Once a criminal investigation ends, confidential information in autopsy reports can become public records, but the process leading to a suspect can sometimes take time, O’Connor wrote.
“In order that justice might be delivered to all, patience may be required of some,” the chief justice said.
The Columbus Dispatch and The Cincinnati Enquirer separately sued for access to the full final autopsies. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which is leading the investigation, sought to shield the information, arguing that its release could compromise the investigation.
The newspapers asked the court to reconsider its December decision, saying the ruling sets a precedent allowing investigators to shield records on “an impossibly vague standard.”
The state opposed the request, saying the newspapers’ arguments simply repackaged previous arguments.
Wednesday’s decision is the last word, said Jack Greiner, an attorney representing the Enquirer, who called the ruling disappointing.
“Fortunately, the decision in the main case is extremely narrow,” he said. “It applies only to final autopsy reports in homicide related autopsies.”
The newspapers had argued there is no evidence the full reports contain confidential information provided by law enforcement authorities, nor any evidence the autopsies were prepared with input from investigators.
Authorities suspect there were multiple attackers who were familiar with the victims’ homes and the surrounding area. The motive remains a mystery.
The office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has said one of the victims, 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr., had “a large-scale marijuana growing operation,” leading some to speculate the killings were drug-related.