Authorities back measure to keep graphic crime photos private

Published: Feb. 13, 2012 at 7:46 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 14, 2012 at 10:54 AM CST
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - When we cover a murder case, we often hold back from showing certain video clips or photographs out of respect to you the viewer, and the victims' family.

But, in this age of 24-hour, online, instant gratification, that standard is often thrown out the window.

Now, authorities across Missouri are trying to do something about it.

"That's another homicide," Cape Girardeau County Coroner John Clifton tells me as he slides a photocopied image across the table we're seated at to show me.

Clifton has a professional obligation to see often very graphic images of violent death.

"Here's one," Clifton shows me "A very brutal homicide."

"The question as you lay these out," I say, "is who would want to see these?"

"That's exactly right," he responds. "Who would want to see these, unless you're a sick, warped individual. There's no reason for it. Or, unless you're some shock journalist that makes a living selling these to some of the tabloids."

And that's just what happened to Clifton, when he says the National Enquirer came calling many years ago, looking for photos of a murder victim.

"I said no, I'm not going to give them to you," he recalls. "And the reporter said, well then we'll sue you. You have to give them to us."

It turns out, that reporter was right. Under Missouri's Sunshine Law, Clifton is compelled to release them.

But now, he's part of a growing effort to take these graphic images off the table.

House Bill 1127 would prohibit the release of crime scene photos or video that depict mutilation, dismemberment, or a victim's genitalia.

Sikeston DPS Chief Drew Juden joins Clifton in supporting the measure.

"In the society we live in now," Juden tells me, "It's now. Everybody wants it now. And if somebody can get their hands on those photos, obviously it's going to become viral."

Juden recalls a brutal murder case he handled back in 2006 where a woman's body was put in a drainage ditch. Clifton shows me one of the crime scene photos from that case.

I blocked out most of the image in my on-air report.

"These are the types of images that we don't want families to be victimized a second time," Juden adds.

This is actually the second time the crime scene photo bill has come before the Missouri House.

Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan testified alongside Clifton and Juden in Jefferson City recently, representing the support of Missouri's Coroner, Sheriff, and Police Chief Associations.

"We're not trying to tread on anyone's Constitutional rights," Clifton says. "You know, there are some things that are right and some things that are wrong. And that's just plain wrong to do that."

One provision in HB 1127 allows the release of all photos and video with the family's consent.

Another allows reporters to see the images, just not copy them.

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