Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Washington State Patrol Declined to Affirm Suicide Verdict, Legal Document Indicates

A legal record obtained publically through the King County Superior Court indicates that the Washington State Patrol (WSP), in 1995, declined to affirm the Seattle Police Department’s determination that Kurt Cobain committed suicide.  The basis provided by the WSP for not affirming the suicide verdict is that the Patrol “lack[ed] sufficient information” to do so.

The decision by the Patrol to not affirm the SPD’s determination is notable in that it diverges from the SPD’s adamant and unequivocal position since 1994 that Mr. Cobain’s death was thoroughly investigated and accurately diagnosed as suicide.

The document in question is a formal legal pleading, called an “Answer,” that was submitted to the court as part of the WSP’s defense against Courtney Love’s 1995 lawsuit against the WSP.   That lawsuit sought to bar the Patrol from releasing the “suicide” note and a comparison letter, also known as the “Rome” note.

As required by court rules, the WSP document provides specific responses to each assertion, put forth as a “fact,” by the opposing party (Ms. Love).  The applicable assertion by Ms. Love, contained in paragraph number “2.10” of Ms. Love’s Petition for Permanent Injunction, is that the “SPD concluded its investigation, and confirmed Mr. Cobain took his own life.”

The WSP, pursuant to court rules, had the option of responding to this assertion by 1) admitting it was true; 2) denying that it was true; or 3) claiming, as the Patrol did, that it lacked sufficient information to form an opinion as to the truth of the claim that Mr. Cobain’s death was accurately classified as suicide.

Relevantly, at issue in the 1995 lawsuit against the WSP was the WSP’s interpretation of the “suicide” note, which, again, notably diverged from the SPD’s position with regard to the note.  As the legal document also indicates, the WSP declined to admit both that the greenhouse note found near Mr. Cobain’s body was “a personal letter to his family” or that the greenhouse note and comparison letter contained “deeply personal and intimate thoughts of Mr. Cobain directed principally to his spouse and daughter,” claiming again lack of sufficient information to do so. 

Importantly, but for the initiation of the lawsuit by Ms. Love, the Patrol was prepared to release both the “suicide” note and the comparison letter into the public domain.

The Cobain file published online by the Seattle Police Department in 2015 contains the legal pleadings and affidavits (AKA “declarations”) from Ms. Love’s legal team, but not the legal records submitted by the WSP in its defense, including the legal record at issue in this article.

Norm Stamper, the chief of the SPD at the time of Mr. Cobain’s passing, recently acknowledged that errors were made in the investigation into Mr. Cobain’s death and that, if chief again, he would reopen the case.  Chief Stamper noted in particular that the behavioral patterns of those with a motive to see Mr. Cobain dead should have been studied.

A 2014 review by the SPD of the 1994 investigation into Mr. Cobain’s death, however, reaffirmed the suicide verdict.  The full scope of that review, though, appears very limited and a number of its conclusions, arguably as a result of bias stemming from severe investigative errors committed during the 1994 investigation, appear forensically unsound. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Peek Into Courtney Love’s 1995 Lawsuit Against the Washington State Patrol and a False Assertion to the Court

Following Kurt Cobain’s death in April of 1994 the Seattle Police Department turned over to the Washington State Patrol (WSP) the greenhouse “suicide” note and an additional comparison letter purported to have been written by Kurt Cobain months before his death.  These documents were turned over to the Patrol for purposes of conducting handwriting comparison analysis so to establish that the “suicide” note was in fact authored by the deceased.  Upon conclusion of this analysis the WSP returned the original documents to the SPD but retained in its possession copies of the two letters.

Thereafter, in September of 1995, a public disclosure request seeking the “suicide” note and the comparison letter was submitted to the WSP, which, if granted by the WSP, would result in the public having access to these documents for review and inspection.  The WSP took the position that the letters were not exempt from disclosure and that, accordingly, the WSP would publicly release them pursuant to the disclosure request.

In October of 1995, in response to the WSP’s stated intention to release the documents, Courtney Love sued the WSP to prevent disclosure.  The Washington law firm representing Ms. Love contended that disclosure would violate her privacy rights and cause her irreparable harm.

At the time of the lawsuit’s filing, public accusations claiming Ms. Love was involved in Mr. Cobain’s death had already been leveled.

In support of the firm’s contentions, it submitted multiple “declarations” to the Court by individuals with knowledge of the contents of the “suicide” note.  Declarations are written statements, signed under risk of penalty of perjury, by individuals claiming to have personal knowledge about a given legal issue.  They are an extremely important part of the judicial process in helping to ensure judges are fully and accurately informed about the vital issues they must decide upon. 

One of the declarations submitted to the Court was that of Seth Lichtenstein’s, an attorney to Courtney Love at the time of the lawsuit’s filing, who unequivocally asserted in his declaration that the greenhouse note “is a personal letter written to Courtney and Frances by Kurt…” (Emphasis added.)  This declaration was obtained publically through the King County Superior Court and, unlike the copy contained in the SPD’s publically available online file, is in un-redacted form. 

Mr. Lichtenstein’s assertion bolsters the lawsuit’s claim that release of the “suicide” note by the WSP would violate Ms. Love’s privacy rights.  The assertion also happens to be entirely inconsistent with the contents of the note.

For as is commonly known among those who have taken an interest in the circumstances of Mr. Cobain’s death, the “suicide” note is directed, in large letters at the outset, “To Boddah,” Mr. Cobain’s imaginary childhood friend, and the body of the letter predominantly articulates Mr. Cobain’s feelings about his career in music.  In addition, a signature is provided after the letter’s body which includes both a first and last name (“Kurt Cobain”), which is inconsistent with a personal letter directed to a family member.  Only in a brief end-note, following the signature, in what appears to be an entirely different style of handwriting, are there intimate words directed to Ms. Love and Mr. Cobain’s daughter.

Notably, Mr. Lichtenstein was at the time of his declaration a partner in Rosemary Carroll’s southern California law firm – Codikow & Carroll.  This fact is particularly concerning with regard to Mr. Lichtenstein’s declaration to the Court, for as we know, Rosemary Carroll, Ms. Love’s and Mr. Cobain’s attorney at the time of Mr. Cobain’s death, appears to have been highly suspicious of Ms. Love’s role in Mr. Cobain’s passing and stated that she was of the opinion that the “suicide” note was not written by Mr. Cobain, but rather that it may have been forged, and that Mr. Cobain’s death was not the result of suicide.

These assertions by Ms. Carroll were captured by clandestine audio recording shortly after Mr. Cobain’s death but well prior to the lawsuit against the WSP, and the assertions are relevant with regard to whether Ms. Carroll, who as an attorney was and is bound by attorney-client obligations, had informed Mr. Lichtenstein, prior to his declaration, of her doubts about the “suicide” note and the cause of her client’s death.

It should be noted, however, that only select portions of the recordings, obtained without consent by then-private investigator Tom Grant, have been made public and because Ms. Carroll appears to have remained publicly silent on the matter a complete understanding of her beliefs is still unknown, including knowledge of the potential pressures Ms. Carroll has faced that may have, understandably, altered her behavior.

In the end, the Court in matter against the Washington State Patrol (WSP), despite having viewed the greenhouse note, would rule in favor of Courtney Love, barring the WSP from releasing the “suicide” note and comparison letter.

.         .         .

As an addendum, at about the same time the suit against the WSP was filed, in late October 1995, Bryan Collucio, Ms. Love’s attorney in the WSP matter, reached out to the Seattle Police Department in an attempt to have the SPD eliminate all Cobain case records and copies thereof in its possession. Mr. Collucio claimed elimination of the records was necessary on privacy grounds.  Such an act, however, would be unlawful, and Norm Stamper, the chief of the Department at the time, would wisely deny the request.