A King County judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a man who sought the release of graphic photos and other police records from the 1994 suicide of Kurt Cobain.
Even before court was in session Friday, longtime Seattle conspiracy theorist Richard Lee was pressing opposing attorneys with the same question he’s been asking for the past 21 years:
What’s in the photos?
Lee, who is behind a public-access show called “Now See It Person To Person: Kurt Cobain Was Murdered,” has maintained since 1994 that the Nirvana frontman, whose death was ruled a suicide by medical examiners, was actually killed through a secret plot involving government officials.
Last year, Lee filed a lawsuit against the city of Seattle, alleging it wrongfully withheld photos and reports that would prove his theory right after he asked for those records under the state Public Records Act.
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But that legal battle is dead for now.
On Friday, King County Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle threw out Lee’s lawsuit on procedural grounds during a summary-judgment hearing that city attorneys requested. The intent of such a hearing is to get a case dismissed or prevent it from going to jury trial based on key facts.
Doyle ruled in the city’s favor.
Lee improperly served his lawsuit to the city by not delivering it to the mayor, city manager or city clerk, who are the appropriate recipients, Doyle decided. She also said he failed to give the city an adequate amount of time to respond to the public-records request before suing.
Doyle dismissed the case with prejudice, barring Lee from filing another lawsuit based on the same request for documents.
“We were pleased that the court agreed that the lawsuit was procedurally defective and dismissed the case,” John Schochet, deputy chief of staff for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, said after the hearing.
But Lee says he plans to submit another records request, and if the city does not turn over the photos, he will file another lawsuit.
“Of course I will refile,” Lee said. “I’ve never heard of a case where an issue of such public importance was dismissed because of such trivial circumstances.”
Cobain’s widow and daughter had joined with the city in seeking to keep the photos private.
Cobain was found dead of a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head in his home on Lake Washington Boulevard East on April 8, 1994, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. He also had a lethal dose of heroin in his system.
Since the beginning, the Seattle Police Department has refused to release graphic photos of Cobains death in order to protect the privacy of his surviving family.
In 2014, Seattle police cold-case Detective Michael Ciesynski examined four previously undeveloped rolls of 35mm film from the scene of Cobain’s homicide in advance of the 20th anniversary of his death. The photos were “underwhelming” and showed no new evidence, police told The Seattle Times in 2014, but a few of the photos were released to the public, including a shot of Cobain’s heroin paraphernalia in a cigar box.
The case was not reopened, and other images, including the photographs of Cobain’s fatal shotgun wound, were kept private.
The newly developed evidence was the impetus for Lee’s 2014 records request and lawsuit. He thinks that photos of Cobain’s body would show that the singer did not, in fact, have a gunshot wound.
The singer’s widow, Courtney Love Cobain, and her daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, both wrote declarations in support of the city in the case against Lee, seeking to keep the photos private. In 1995, Courtney Love Cobain successfully acquired an injunction to keep Cobain’s suicide note from the public. In her declaration, she said she’ll ask for another injunction if need be.
According to their statements, neither survivor has seen the photos of Cobain’s body.
“I have had to cope with many personal issues because of my father’s death. Coping with even the possibility that those photographs could be made public is very difficult,” Frances Bean Cobain wrote. “Further sensationalizing it through the release of these pictures would cause us indescribable pain.”
Though Friday’s court proceedings terminated Lee’s lawsuit, the judge made clear that Lee is not prevented from submitting future records requests.