Hustler writer's request for crime scene photos of beheaded Longmont woman earns big FU

"I'm a true crime author and historian," Hustler magazine contributor Fred Rosen writes on his website. "I've found that most murders are a dime a dozen; the really good ones are rare. And the ones that say something about us as a society are even rarer."

As it turns out, the response to Rosen asking for crime scene photos of Meredith Emerson, 24, a former Longmont woman turned University of Georgia student whose decapitated body was found in the Georgia woods in January 2008, says something about society, too.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has reportedly turned down Rosen's petition, and David Ralson, George's Speaker of the House, who's called Rosen's desire for the shots "vile" and "disgusting," supports legislation to exempt such crime-scene photos from public records requests.

Which could open up a fascinating constitutional controversy.

Banning the release of all crime-scene photos seems so broad a reaction that it practically begs for legal challenge -- and differentiating on a legislative level between what could and what couldn't be made public would be just as fraught with peril.

Moreover, Hustler has a history of First Amendment challenges, most famously in the case of a Jerry Falwell parody that led to a landmark case portrayed in the 1996 movie The People vs. Larry Flynt.

As plenty of constitutional defenders have pointed out over the years, the true test of the First Amendment comes when it's applied to unpopular or unpleasant material -- and crime scene photos of a beheaded young woman certainly qualify on that score. Moreover, Rosen isn't exactly the most sympathetic protagonist. His most recent book focuses on the intersection of sex and murder: It's called Deadly Angel: The Bizarre True Story of Alaska's Killer Stripper. But Hustler publisher Larry Flynt isn't all that sympathetic, either -- and he bested one of the most famous evangelical preachers of the era.

With that in mind, don't be surprised if accounts of Meredith Emerson's slaying wind up on both the book shelf and the court docket.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts