LAKELAND, Fla. – A man sentenced to life in prison for the 1991 murder of his 11-month-old stepson should have access to autopsy photos as he challenges the conviction, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal sided with inmate Armand Perreault in his interpretation of a law that was passed to shield autopsy photos after the 2001 death of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt at Daytona International Speedway.
Perrault in 2014 filed a motion seeking to force a medical examiner to turn over autopsy photos of his stepson, who died from traumatic injuries, the ruling said.
Perreault contends the injuries were suffered when he used CPR after the child stopped breathing. Perreault argued that the photos were needed to help a forensic pathologist review the case.
A Pinellas County circuit judge rejected Perreault's motion, saying the Earnhardt-inspired law required the inmate to show "good cause" to get a court order for the autopsy photos --- and that Perreault had failed to meet that test.
But the appeals court Wednesday rejected that decision, saying the law includes an exemption for autopsy photos in criminal proceedings.
"In this case, Mr. Perreault filed a motion seeking disclosure of the autopsy photos relied upon by the experts in his criminal trial in service of a contemplated motion to challenge his conviction. … We are therefore dealing with a proceeding brought under the rules of criminal procedure, and the state does not dispute that the request here relates to a criminal proceeding," said the seven-page ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Samuel Salario and joined by judges Darryl Casanueva and Daniel Sleet. "Mr. Perreault's effort to obtain copies of the relevant autopsy photos is thus exempt from the requirements of (a section of the autopsy-photo law). The trial court erred as a matter of law when it denied his motion to compel based on his purported failure to show good cause and give notice to the child's mother."