DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Almost four months after the death of racing legend Dale Earnhardt, the controversy over his autopsy photos has reached a Volusia County courtroom.
A college newspaper and a Web site that want access to the photos were scheduled to have their arguments heard Monday by Circuit Judge Joseph Will. Earnhardt's widow, Teresa Earnhardt, is expected to testify.
The hearing also was to include testimony aimed at reversing a court order that sealed the photos, and the judge may rule on the constitutionality of a new state law barring access to such records.
Four days after the Feb. 18 accident that killed Earnhardt in a last-lap crash at the Daytona 500, his widow was granted a court order _ issued by Will _ barring access to the photos although the records were open under Florida's Sunshine Law.
A month later, the Florida Legislature passed a law that makes it a felony to release autopsy photos without a judge's order.
Now, the Independent Florida Alligator, a student newspaper at the University of Florida, and Deland-based Websitecity.com are having their day in court to gain access to the photos and records.
The Alligator has argued that access to autopsy photos has been helpful to the public, such as allowing independent investigations of insurance claims, malpractice and murders. The newspaper also said the new law can't be applied retroactively.
Earnhardt lawyers argued in their filings that the only reason access to the photos is being sought is to grab public attention and sell newspapers.
One media outlet did get partial access to the photos.
Earnhardt and the Orlando Sentinel reached a settlement allowing an independent medical expert to view the photos and issue a report before the photos were sealed.
The medical expert later determined Earnhardt's fatal injury wasn't from striking his head on a steering wheel because of a malfunctioning seat belt, but that his neck snapped when his black No. 3 Chevrolet hit the wall head-on at 180 mph.