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Morgue charge dropped

Cincinnati- Prosecutors dropped the remaining charge against Cincinnati photographer Thomas Condon Tuesday, ending a three-year criminal case over photos Condon took of bodies at the Hamilton County morgue.

Prosecutor Mike Allen said he agreed to dismiss the final charge because he didn’t want to put anyone – especially the families whose loved ones were photographed – through another trial.

But Condon, who spent a year in prison, said he never should have been prosecuted in the first place and vowed to continue to appeal his conviction on seven other charges of gross abuse of a corpse.

In his first extensive comments about his criminal case since he went to prison, Condon described his morgue photos as a misunderstood art project exploited for political purposes, a charge Allen denies.

“I don’t believe they deserve any sense of gratitude for doing the right thing,” Condon said of the decision to drop the disputed eighth charge of gross abuse of a corpse. “Their handling of this has been positively diabolical.”

Condon also repeated a claim he made at his sentencing in 2001, when he said Coroner Carl Parrott and other morgue officials knew he intended to photograph bodies as part of an art project.

The photos included images of bodies posed with inanimate objects, such as a snail shell, a piece of fruit and sheet music.

Some morgue employees have said they knew Condon had an interest in an art project, but Parrott has repeatedly said he knew nothing about it. Parrott said Condon had permission to take photos in preparation for the production of a training video, and that was all.

“It’s very frustrating,” Parrott said Tuesday. “Had we known what he wanted to do, we would have said no. No one heard anything that gave any indication of what he wanted to do.”

Condon seemed to support that contention in 2001, when he answered “no” when police asked if Parrott knew what he was doing. But Tuesday, he insisted he’d told the coroner his plans.

“We approached them about my project,” Condon said. “The whole idea I was just there for training video purposes and then did the renegade thing, sneaking around, is absolutely false.”

He said morgue employees, though not the coroner, were always nearby. “There was nothing hidden,” Condon said. “Did I have a conversation when I was setting up a shot with the shell? No. But (morgue employees) were coming and going.”

He said his photos, which Allen has described as “vile,” were part of a larger art project about the cycle of life.

He said the objects he placed with the bodies were symbolic, such as a shell representing the “shell” of the human body.

Condon said he never intended to reveal the identity of the bodies in the photographs and regrets any pain the photos have caused the families, many of whom are now suing the county in federal court.

“To say I did something horrible and intentional toward these people, these things are not true,” Condon said. “I was not playing with dead bodies. What I was after was to bring something that hadn’t been done or seen before … into a context that is positive and revitalizing.”

The families, however, never gave their permission for the photos and view them as a physical and emotional violation.

“They can’t believe someone, with no medical purpose, was allowed to touch the bodies,” said Al Gerhardstein, the families’ attorney. “It sends a horrible ripple through the families. There’s no boundary to what they reasonably fear.”

With the criminal case now over, Gerhardstein said he hopes to question Condon under oath about his photos. But Condon’s lawyer, H. Louis Sirkin, said the case could continue in federal court as his client appeals his conviction.

“We feel he has been wrongly convicted,” Sirkin said.


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