A King County Superior Court judge will hear arguments about whether or not to proceed with a trial surrounding death-scene records and photos of Kurt Cobain.
A King County Superior Court judge will hear arguments Friday on whether to proceed with a trial over the release of graphic photos and other police records from the 1994 death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain.
Richard Lee, 51, who runs a local public-access show called “Now See It Person To Person: Kurt Cobain Was Murdered,” is suing the city and the Seattle Police Department for the release of records and photos from the scene of Cobain’s death under the state Public Records Act.
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.
Lee has maintained over the years that Cobain was murdered through a conspiracy involving government officials. He thinks that exposing the photos of Cobain’s body would show that the singer did not, in fact, have a gunshot wound.
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In 2014, four previously undeveloped rolls of 35 mm film from the 1994 crime scene were examined by Seattle police cold-case detective Michael Ciesynski in advance of the 20th anniversary of Cobain’s suicide. 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 photographs of Cobain’s fatal shotgun wound, were kept private.
The city is arguing that they should stay that way for the sake of the family’s privacy. Courtney Love Cobain, 51, and their daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, 22, have also written declarations to the court about the impact, both physically and psychologically, the release of the graphic photos would have on their lives.
“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 wrote. “Further sensationalizing it through the release of these pictures would cause us indescribable pain.”
Frances Bean already faces harassment from fans “obsessed” with her father, and fears that could get worse, she writes. One fan broke into her California home and waited three days for her to return from vacation, because he “believed my father’s soul had entered my body,” she wrote in her declaration.
According to their statements, neither has seen the photos of Cobain’s body.
“Public disclosure would reopen all my old wounds and cause me and my family permanent — indeed, endless and needless — pain and suffering, and would be a gross violation of our privacy interests,” Courtney Love wrote. “I would never be able to erase those haunting images from my mind. I cannot even imagine the enormity of the trauma this would cause me, not to mention many others.”
In 1995, Courtney Love Cobain successfully obtained court permission to keep Kurt Cobain’s suicide note, and another note used for handwriting analysis, out of the public eye.
On Friday, Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle will hear oral arguments about whether Lee’s lawsuit seeking the photos and other evidence from the scene should go to trial.
The city contends that Lee made a number of procedural missteps that merit dismissal of the case, and even if he hadn’t, Cobain’s photos are protected under privacy law and that the judge could simply issue a summary judgment on the case.
“(The Public Records Act) does not provide a forum, as Lee would have it, for litigating personal theories about Kurt Cobain’s death,” Assistant City Attorney Mary Perry wrote in the request for dismissal or summary judgment. “Allegations concerning the adequacy of an investigation do not warrant disclosure of information that would violate an individual’s right to privacy.”
Lee has a history of publicly interrogating people he believes to be involved in the conspiracy surrounding Cobain’s death, camera in hand. Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels won a restraining order against Lee after Lee was arrested for allegedly chasing Nickels with questions about Cobain’s death and kicking one of his bodyguards during a Fremont rally in 2005. Lee himself has made two unsuccessful bids for mayor, in 2001 and 2005.
Lee is acting as his own lawyer in this case.
“These are the intricacies of civil law and this is a technical challenge,” he said in an interview. “My understanding is that I will clear this hurdle.”