WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) Nancy Benoit's estate can proceed with their lawsuit against Hustler Magazine for publishing nude photos of Benoit after she was murdered by her husband, WWE wrestler Chris Benoit, in a murder suicide that also claimed the life of their 7-year-old son, Daniel, according to a ruling by the United States Supreme Court Monday.
Hustler published 20-year-old nude photographs of Nancy Benoit in March 2008 after the deaths gained international attention.
Her family filed a federal lawsuit against the Larry Flynt Publishing Group, Hustler's publisher, claiming that Nancy Benoit, a model and former professional wrestler herself, had asked the photographer to destroy the images immediately after they were shot.
Police say the crimes took place over a three-day period in June 2007 at the Atlanta-area home of the Benoits. Investigators concluded that Chris Benoit first bound his 43-year-old wife and strangled her. The 7-year-old boy was then drugged and strangled. Chris Benoit then committed suicide by hanging himself with a weight machine, police believe. No formal motive was ever established.
A federal judge ruled in the magazine's favor in October 2008, concluding that the magazine had a right to publish the photos because of what they called a "legitimate matter of public interest and concern."
That decision was reversed by the Atlanta based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009.
"The photographs published by [Flynt] neither relate to the incident of public concern conceptually [the murders] nor correspond with the time period during which Benoit was rendered, against her will, the subject of public scrutiny," the state court wrote. "Were we to hold otherwise, [Flynt] would be free to publish any nude photograph of almost anyone without their permission, simply because the fact they were caught nude on camera strikes someone as 'newsworthy.' Surely that debases the very concept of a right to privacy."
The magazine, backed by journalists' groups, said it had a First Amendment right to publish the pictures.