Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dismissal of 'Invisible Eden' Libel Suit No 'Flook'

Barnstable (Mass.) County Superior Court Judge Robert Rufo has tossed the 2006 libel case filed by the former boyfriend of murdered fashion writer Christa Worthington against the publisher and author of a book that he claimed suggested he was her killer.

In Tim Arnold v. Maria Flook & Random House Inc. (Case No. 06356), the plaintiff, who found Worthington's body, claimed the book, "Invisible Eden," invited readers to conclude he murdered Worthington. According to the complaint, the "imputation of crime, though indirect, is yet unmistakable."

Apparently, not to Judge Rufo, who decided that Flook merely reported information from prosecutors who, at one point, considered Arnold the prime suspect. Christopher McCowen, a Cape Cod sanitation worker, was convicted of stabbing Worthington to death in a case that involved accusations of racial bias by certain jurors.

Judge Rufo and Arnold's counsel also disagrred regarding the plaintiff's burden of proof in his libel suit, with the latter arguing Arnold was a private individual and Judge Rufo considering him a public figure because of the multiple news media interviews in which he participated.  Under Massachusetts libel law, a public figure must prove "actual malice" on the part of the defendant, whereas a private citizen need only satisfy the lower standard of "negligence."

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