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Vanessa Bryant’s lawyers wrap case over shared crash photos

An attorney asked the jury to award the two plaintiffs $42.5 million and $32.5 million, respectively.

(CN) — The civil trial over photographs taken by first responders to the helicopter crash that took the lives of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others is nearly complete, as lawyers for the two plaintiffs — Kobe's wife Vanessa and Christopher Chester, whose wife and daughter also died in the crash — delivered their closing arguments to the jury.

The remarks were delivered Tuesday, on what would have been Kobe Bryant's 44th birthday.

At issue is whether or not photographs taken by sheriff's deputies and LA County fire officials depicted human remains of the plaintiffs' family members, how widely the photos were shared and for what purpose they were shared.

The photos have never been made public. But Bryant and Chester say they are "haunted" by the possibility the photos may one day surface and be widely disseminated.

"Either the photographs will surface, and their worst fears will be realized," said Bryant's lawyer, Craig Lavoie, "or they'll live in fear for the rest of their lives."

Chester's lawyer Jerome Jackson said the first responders "stole the only thing [Chester] could salvage from this tragic accident: his dignity and his privacy." And then, Jackson said, the defendants "laughed about it and lied about it."

Up until now, the plaintiffs in the case have never asked for a specific dollar amount in damages. But Jackson, in his closing argument, did just that on Tuesday. He asked the jury to award Bryant $42.5 million, and Chester $32.5 million. He arrived at that figure by adding $2.5 million for the past two years of damages, plus a million dollars for every year of expected life of the two plaintiffs, which he gave as 40 years for Bryant and 30 for Chester. But he said the jurors were free to award less — or more.

"You can't award too much for what they went through," Jackson said. "You can't stack it too high."

The money would be paid by county taxpayers, via the sheriff's and fire departments.

Lawyers for Los Angeles County will give their closing statement Wednesday morning, followed by rebuttal from the plaintiffs' attorneys. After that, it will be left in the hands of the nine jurors, who will decide a series of questions regarding whether or not the sheriff's or fire departments violated Bryant and Chester's constitutional right to privacy, either by having an inadequate policy governing the photographing of human remains on personal cellphones, or by a "widespread or longstanding practice or custom" of first responders taking pictures of crime scenes and accidents.

Much of the plaintiffs' case rests on the conflicting and contradictory testimony given by the first responders, who either photographed the crash site or received and shared the photos. Many of the initial interviews, conducted by the Sheriff's Department, and depositions indicated that the photographs were graphic, showing dismembered body parts and organs.

But once called to testify for the plaintiffs, their stories had largely changed — or, in some cases, been forgotten. During the trial, the first responders described the photographs as wide shots of the crash site, and not focused on human remains. And because the photos — at least the ones we know about — have purportedly been deleted, the jury will have to decide who to believe, and when to believe them.

The photos were shown to members of the public on at least two instances: once at a bar in Norwalk, when a sheriff's deputy showed the photos to a bartender, and once at an award's show when a fire official showed the photos to some colleagues and their wives. This sharing was observed by Luella Weireter, whose cousin died in the crash.

The fire official, said Lavoie, "brandished" the photos as if they were a "party trick." Lavoie suggested the photos had likely been shared other times, and that a number of other unidentified fire officials had been in possession of the photographs, which means that it's unclear if all the photos really had been deleted.

Lavoie argued the departments' lack of a coherent policy around the taking and sharing of crash site photos led to the photo-sharing debacle.

"The department knew that sharing of the photos would violate the Constitution," he said. "And they did nothing."

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