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Lawsuit Over Dale Earnhardt Autopsy Photos: Widow Testifies

Aired June 12, 2001 - 15:20   ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Joie Chen at CNN Center. We want to take our viewers now immediately to Daytona Beach, Florida, a courtroom where they're hearing testimony regarding the autopsy photos for the Dale Earnhardt autopsy. On the stand now is his widow. Let's hear from her.


TERESA EARNHARDT, DALE EARNHARDT'S WIDOW: ... already done with other photos of the same nature, the fear that that will happen at any time.

MICHAEL URIBE, WEBSITECITY.COM: But that's a fear you have.

EARNHARDT: Yes, it is.

URIBE: It's a fear, but that's fear. That's not the feeling that you just...

EARNHARDT: It's pain, it's torture.

URIBE: Stemming from the fear, the hate of media?

EARNHARDT: No. Stemming from the fear and the invasion that could happen if this, these photos were ever viewed. They cannot be just viewed, that's not possible, not in this day and time.

URIBE: The law permits that, though, but you're saying that's still violating, and your position is also that not only do you want the law to stand as it is to permit viewing, you are also objecting now that even though autopsy photographs are viewable with good cause you want your autopsy photographs of your deceased husband removed from that pool...

THOM RUMBERGER, EARNHARDT ATTORNEY: We would object to this. We would object to the harassing. We would object to this whole line of questioning. We would suggest respectfully that Mrs. Earnhardt has been put through enough in the last four or five months. She does not need to culminate in this kind of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), harassment, and absolutely asinine, inane questioning.

JUDGE JOSEPH WILL, VOLUSIA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT: Probably went beyond the bounds of a legal objection, Mr. Rumberger. Let's try to keep it to legal objections. URIBE: I apologize if I'm also speaking very loudly, your honor. I just -- this is to me -- I think this -- I'm passionately involved in this as well. I do not -- my dramatizations which have been commented on are not targeted towards anyone here individually or personality. It's just a personality defect that I must have.

WILL: That's -- what was the question? No, it was a long question. Ask a new question. Try to do the same one if you wish, but just make it a little shorter for me.

URIBE: All I'm trying to do -- I am so sorry that you have to answer this question but you're creating this. Let's separate us from this and put this in the context of an academic context. Please explain how the viewing session where you're not even aware of can violate you. We've understood that to be there because of the fear that you maintain, because of your awareness and that fear. But that particular instance, how did that violate you?

RUMBERGER: Asked and answered. Objection.

EARNHARDT: I answered that already.

WILL: Sustained.

URIBE: Ms. Earnhardt, you have indicated that your fear of these autopsy images would end up on the Internet, correct?

EARNHARDT: That's one of them, yes.

URIBE: And you also indicated that your concern was that your daughter would see them on the Internet, correct?


URIBE: OK. Do you have Internet access to where your daughter can have -- does your daughter have access to Internet access?

EARNHARDT: At times.

URIBE: OK. Is this unsupervised Internet access?


URIBE: You do understand how the Internet works, correct?

EARNHARDT: Somewhat.

URIBE: You have to move the mouse, click on something, and it takes you to a Web site.

RUMBERGER: Objection. Irrelevant, immaterial.

WILL: Where are we headed?

RUMBERGER: Somewhere on the Internet, apparently.


URIBE: To understand...

WILL: Well, anyone enjoys a good joke. But no one enjoys a good joke more than me, Mr. Rumberger. Please no more jokes at Mr. Uribe's expense. I believe he's making an attempt to do the right thing.

RUMBERGER: And I'm just objecting. This whole thing is a joke in this cross-examination in which I object and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) will object.

WILL: OK. Then don't object anymore for a couple of minutes, and we'll stay at peace.

RUMBERGER: I'm sorry. What? Don't object?

WILL: Yeah, not for a couple of minutes, so that you and I can stay at peace. Mr. Uribe, what I'm asking is it's hard for me to tell, because of the fact that you're not a lawyer, exactly what point you're going to make shortly. And so I'll try to give you some latitude to ask questions at the base of your inquiry that when I think I know where you're going. But this time, I just don't know where you're going, and that's why I'm asking you. Where are you going? What is the point that you hope to make with your inquiry? Whether or not Ms. Earnhardt knows how the Internet works is pretty far from anything that I can see being relevant.

URIBE: I'm not aware of -- but to explain that to you might prepare the witness to answer question in open court.

WILL: Life can sometimes be difficult. Where are you heading?

URIBE: I'm trying to see if Ms. Earnhardt understands that you have to deliberately access certain Web sites, and that the Web sites don't jump out in front of you as you turn on the computer.

WILL: Ask her that.

URIBE: Do you...

EARNHARDT: I'm aware of that.

URIBE: And you're aware that at one point there was a law that sought to regulate the content of the Internet, but then it was deemed to be unconstitutional, and it turned the responsibility of regulating content to the -- on the end user.



WILL: Sustained. You don't have to. Sustained.


WILL: I'll object for you for a couple of minutes. URIBE: In other words, you wouldn't hand a loaded weapon to a small child, would you?

WILL: Sustained.

I'll tell you what, I'm going to help you again a little bit. The point in a non-jury case of asking a question is to make the court aware as the same you would make a jury aware of a given fact. And the facts that you're asking now are all facts of which I'm fairly aware.

If you believe that there's an emotional state that could be caused or not caused in the plaintiff, then direct yourself there, OK?

CHEN: Note to our viewers about what you have been watching here: this has been questioning of, as you see there, Teresa Earnhardt, who is of course the widow of Dale Earnhardt, the late driver who died of course at the Daytona 500 in the last lap of the race this year.

There has been an effort under way by a Web site called Websitecity, as well as a newspaper of the University of Florida called "The Independent Florida Alligator" to access those photographs from the autopsy for further review by their folks as well.

What you were hearing just now was questioning by the owner of Websitecity, who is not a lawyer. Therefore, we saw a number of difficulties in his line of questioning, as faced by the judge and by lawyers for Mrs. Earnhardt as well. But this individual from Websitecity was trying to create a line of questioning to try to get more information from the widow, Teresa Earnhardt, about why she did not want those autopsy pictures to become public.

Again, this is a line of questioning that has been going on for some time now. This process has taken over an hour, about an hour- and-a-half at this point. Teresa Earnhardt still on the stand, and the judge in the case still trying to work out a line of questioning by this figure who is not a lawyer in this case, as they pursue trying to get access to the pictures of Dale Earnhardt's autopsy. CNN is continuing to follow up on this story, and we will drop back into it if the developments warrant there.

On another story we are watching very closely here at CNN today, a convicted terrorist will escape the death penalty. Just a short time ago, a New York jury announced that it had deadlocked on whether Mohamed Al-'Owhali should face capital punishment. That means that he'll receive the alternate sentence, which is life in prison without parole. Al-'Owhali was one of four men convicted of conspiring to bomb the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

We are going to hear from CNN correspondent Brian Palmer who is at the federal courthouse in New York coming up at the top the hour at "CNN NEWS SITE." We'll go back to TALKBACK LIVE after this break.



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