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Lawsuit to release graphic Kurt Cobain death photos thrown out

SEATTLE - A judge on Friday threw out a lawsuit by a Seattle man who wanted the city to release graphic photos taken by police at the death scene of rock icon Kurt Cobain.

Richard Lee had filed the suit in response to the city of Seattle denying his request for the release of photos and certain police reports under the Washington State Public Records Act. His effort was opposed by Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, and daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, as well as the homicide detective who recently examined Cobain's death.

"I personally opposes the release of all death scene photos, whether it's a homeless victim or a celebrity. Kurt committed suicide 21 years ago and releasing death scene photos would not change that," said Detective Mike Ciesynski.

Lee is known around Seattle as a man who confronts public figures with a video camera looking for comments about his theory that Cobain did not commit suicide but was murdered, and that the plot was covered up by Seattle officials. He has a Seattle public access TV show called "Now See It Person to Person: Kurt Cobain was Murdered," and has even run for mayor.

Lee's latest gambit was to force the release of the graphic police photos taken at Cobain's death scene in April of 1994. The Seattle coroner ruled the death a suicide, but conspiracy theorists like Lee have refused to accept that finding, or a subsequent investigation by Seattle Police Department (SPD), which did not find any evidence of foul play.

Judge Theresa Doyle dismissed Lee's suit on procedural grounds, finding that he did not properly serve the city and filed his suit too soon. She didn't rule on the merits of his request, specifically whether the photos can be withheld from release because of privacy concerns. Lee told 48 Hours' Crimesider that he plans to refile in the future.

While many news agencies have standards which prevent them from showing graphic photos of dead bodies unless under unusual circumstances, it was unclear how Lee might have used these photos.

"Inevitably these images will wind up on the internet," Cobain's widow Courtney Love states in a declaration filed in support of the City Attorney's effort to block release of the photos.

"I have never seen these graphic and disturbing images, nor do I ever want to. I cannot believe that there exists any genuine public interest which might be served by the public release of these images."

Lee said he believes the Cobain death scene photos he is requesting will demonstrate "little or no blood at the scene, and therefore death by means other than shotgun."

Last year Crimesider published 30 never-before-seen photos which the Seattle Police released prior to the 20-year-anniversary of Cobain's death. None of those photos were graphic depictions of Cobain's dead body or gunshot injuries.

At the same time, Crimesider also reported the results of an SPD review of the Cobain file. Veteran cold case homicide Detective Mike Ciesynski concluded that the SPD investigation conducted at the time of Cobain's death "reached the correct conclusion that the manner of death was (suicide)."

Beyond privacy issues, Love and Frances Bean contended that the release of these death photos pose a threat to their safety.

"I am routinely called a murderer and receive death threats by conspiracy-theory obsessed individuals who believe I was somehow involved in my husband's death," Love stated in the filing. "Public release of these images would only exacerbate such activity and further endanger my safety."

A former Seattle mayor won a restraining order against Lee in 2005 after Lee was arrested for allegedly chasing the mayor with a video camera asking questions about Cobain's death. And at a book signing in 2011, Lee heckled Guns & Roses bass player Duff McKagan until he was escorted off premises.

McKagan flew on an airplane with Cobain from Los Angeles to Seattle after Cobain abruptly checked out of rehab for heroin addiction and returned home to Seattle days before his death in 1994. Hence, Lee's attempt to question McKagan about the rock star's state of mind in the days before his death.

"Get the [expletive] out of here," a befuddled and frustrated McKagan screams as Lee is escorted out the door amid cheers from the crowd approving of Lee's ejection, which was captured on video.

Lee is one of many preoccupied with the death of the Nirvana front man.

"My mother and I both receive a constant stream of death threats from very disturbed individuals who are obsessed with my father," explained Frances Bean in her declaration.

"Once a stalker broke into my home while I was on vacation, and laid in wait for three days. This person's twisted explanation was that he was meant to be with me because my father's soul had entered my body."

Frances Bean and Love both contend that releasing the graphic images would cause Cobain's loved ones pain and suffering.

Love said in her statement she is "sickened" by the idea that Lee "will wrongfully profit from exploiting these images."

Lee denies he would profit from the release of the images, saying that "my period of exclusive control of any documents/images would be essentially nil. All media requesting would get them the same day."