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Oklahoma lawmaker pulls proposal to make autopsy details secret

The revised measure would have applied to murder cases in which law officers have no suspect. Critics said family members and the public have the right to the information

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: May 18, 2010 at 4:44 am •  Published: May 18, 2010
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Facing stiffer opposition than she expected on the House floor, a lawmaker Monday pulled her bill that would have allowed district attorneys or law enforcement agencies to request the state medical examiner’s office to withhold certain parts of homicide autopsy reports for an indeterminate time.

House Bill 3155 was revised to cover only homicides in which authorities "are grasping at straws” and have little evidence or clues to come up with a suspect, said the measure’s author, Rep. Leslie Osborn.

"We’re talking about not releasing every heinous detail,” said Osborn, R-Tuttle.

Osborn said she estimated the measure would have been applicable about five times a year.

Republicans and Democrats attacked the measure, saying it would have sealed off information from families of the deceased and from the public’s right to know.

Osborn said the bill would have allowed authorities to ask the medical examiner’s office to withhold certain "grisly details” so it would be more difficult for "false confessors” to go to law officers and interfere with investigations.

"It does kind of set up roadblocks and kind of diverts attention,” she said.

Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, a former newspaper publisher, said he was concerned the measure would cut off information.

House Speaker Pro Tempore Kris Steele said the measure could eliminate a layer of accountability from the medical examiner’s office.

Steele, R-Shawnee, said people, based on information they have received from the media, have helped provide information to police.

"Don’t you think openness and transparency in government is a good thing?” Rep. Lucky Lamons, a retired police officer, asked Osborn.

Lamons, D-Tulsa, tried to add an amendment to Osborn’s bill that called for the House of Representatives and the Senate to conform with the state Open Meeting Act and Open Records Act.