CLEARWATER — A judge ordered Friday that crime scene photographs taken by police during the suicide investigation of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, also known as the D.C. Madam, are public — to an extent.
Palfrey's mother, Blanche Palfrey, had requested the court prohibit the release of photos taken by Tarpon Springs police in the hours immediately following her daughter's death by hanging.
Sixth Circuit Judge Linda Allan said the public could view the photos, but she prohibited their duplication or publication.
Allan said the order struck a balance between the public's right to know and Blanche Palfrey's rights to privacy.
The younger Palfrey committed suicide May 1 in a shed outside her mother's home in Tarpon Springs. Palfrey, who was 52, had been convicted two weeks earlier of racketeering and money laundering while running a prostitution service. She was facing a federal prison sentence of six to eight years.
In court Friday, Mrs. Palfrey bowed her head and began sobbing when she talked about finding her daughter's body that morning. Allan ordered a recess to give the 76-year-old time to compose herself. Mrs. Palfrey, who was helped into the courtroom by a friend, said she has had two open-heart surgeries and feared for her health should the photos be published or broadcast.
"I'm afraid it would kill me," said Mrs. Palfrey, her voice breaking.
Mrs. Palfrey urged the judge to keep the photos private.
"Judge Allan, please, this is the last thing I can do for my daughter,'' she said. "Please don't let these pictures get out in public."
Her attorney, Serbo Simeoni, said the intent of the law enacted by the Florida Legislature in 2001 in the wake of the death of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt was to protect family members from unnecessary harm or humiliation.
Simeoni argued the statute also applied to the Palfrey crime scene photos because they were similar or identical to photos taken by the medical examiner's office that day.
The order is a temporary injunction that could be revisited, Allan said.
Attorney Tom Reynolds, representing the St. Petersburg Times, which had requested access to the photos, said he didn't plan to appeal the motion at this time.
"I'm not sure that it's legally correct, but it's eminently fair," he said after the hearing.
Mrs. Palfrey said she was satisfied with the ruling.
"I don't know what I would have done."
Rita Farlow can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4162.