CINCINNATI – Hamilton County agreed Tuesday to pay $8 million to settle a lawsuit over photos taken of posed bodies in the county morgue.
The county will pay the money to 532 families over a two-year period, formally apologize to them and make sure offensive photos and copies are destroyed under an agreement that must be approved by U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel. The settlement also includes grief counseling and a memorial.
The families sued because of photos, which showed the bodies posed with fruit, doll house furniture and other props, taken by a photographer, Thomas Condon, who said he was taking the pictures as part of an art project to illustrate the cycle of life from birth through death.
"The current settlement, based on unauthorized manipulation and photography of bodies over a four-month period in the morgue, is viewed by both sides as a fair compromise, particularly with the focus on continuing improvement at the Coroner's Office," said a joint statement by the county and plaintiffs.
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune said those responsible are no longer in county government and that current officials pledge to remain vigilant.
Attorney Al Gerhardstein said if the case had gone to trial, the verdict could have easily been three times the settlement amount.
"But nothing is certain and this settlement combines a fair payment for the injuries with important targeted reforms to ensure these horrific abuses never happen again," he said.
Condon was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison after a jury convicted him in 2001 of eight counts of gross abuse of a corpse for taking the pictures. A state appeals court reduced Condon's sentence to 18 months.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
APTV 08-21-07 1627EDT