CINCINNATI (AP) — Ohio media organizations have gotten mixed results in separate state court rulings on their challenges to newsgathering restrictions in two of the state's highest-profile criminal cases in recent years.
FILE – In this May 3, 2016, file photo, mourners gather during funeral services at Scioto Burial Park in McDermott, Ohio, around caskets for six of the eight members of the Rhoden family found shot April 22, 2016, at four properties near Piketon, Ohio. A divided Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, rejected requests for the unredacted autopsy reports from the unsolved slayings. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
The state's highest court on Thursday refused to order the release of complete autopsy reports from the unsolved 2016 slayings of eight family members in southern Ohio. That ruling came the day after a state appeals panel agreed that reporters should have received juror questionnaires used for the retrial of a former University of Cincinnati police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black motorist in 2015.
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor wrote for the 4-3 majority that the coroner records were allowed to have redacted material under a law that exempts confidential police investigatory records.
"The potential ramifications of this decision are troubling because it could really greatly expand the exemption," Greiner said.
Greiner represents The Cincinnati Enquirer. The Enquirer and The Columbus Dispatch separately sued for unredacted autopsy reports from the slayings.
O'Connor wrote that patience is required for obtaining the information while authorities pursue justice in the case. The slayings and the motive for them remain unsolved.
Justice Sharon Kennedy dissented, saying redactions in the reports were inconsistent and didn't reveal information about potential suspects.
The 1st District Court of Appeals ruled that the presiding judge in former UC police officer Ray Tensing's second murder trial didn't offer enough evidence to justify withholding the questionnaires that explored potential jurors' views on issues such as police and race.
However, the ruling upheld redacting their names, and the panel voted 2-1 to dismiss as moot the news organizations' request to block Hamilton County Judge Leslie Ghiz's other sweeping coverage restrictions such as limits on the number of courtroom journalists and the use of electronic devices. Ghiz cited "unprecedented and extensive media coverage" and at one point called media behavior "offensive" as she imposed a gag order and other measures she said were needed to seat a jury for a fair trial.
"(Judges) can't restrict public access just because they think that's what they want to do," said Greiner, who argued that case for news organizations that also included The Associated Press.
Charges against Tensing were dismissed in July after his second mistrial. Federal authorities are reviewing the case for possible civil violations in the traffic-stop shooting of Sam DuBose.
Associated Press reporter Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus in contributed.