Dying for Privacy: Pitting Public Access Against Familial Interests In the Era of the Internet

Calvert, Clay | August 16, 2010

“I just killed my two kids. . . . I drowned them. . . . They are 2 and 4. . . . I just shot myself. . . . with a gun. . . . Please hurry.” That was the dying declaration of 21-year-old Julia Murray on February 16, 2010, preserved for all of posterity on a 911 emergency telephone recording and available to anyone and everyone in Florida—from journalists and police to even voyeurs and perverts—under that state’s open records laws. Murray and one of her three children are gone (the second child survived the drowning attempt), but her words remain. Should the public have a right to hear them? In 2010, multiple events magnified public focus on the escalating tension between family members’ privacy rights with respect to the death-scene images and dying words of their loved ones, on the one hand, and the public’s right to access those documents, on the other.