Monday, May 10, 2010

Wichita Station Off-the-Hook in Misidentified Murder Suspect Suit

City of WichitaImage via Wikipedia
In Melanie L. Valadez, Adm. of Estate of Roger G. Valadez v. Emmis Communications & Todd Spessard, (Case No. 99,139), the Kansas Supreme Court this month overturned a judgment against Wichita's KSN-TV and its news director involving the station's wrongly identifying plaintiff's decedent as a suspect in the notorious BTK serial killings.

According to an Associated Press report, in December 2004, KSN-TV, acting on an anonymous tip, dispatched a reporter to the home of Roger G. Valadez whom police had arrested for housing code violations and trespassing. Police had obtained a search warrant of Valadez's home.  The station erroneously reported that Valadez's arrest was in connection with the BTK killings ("Bind, Torture, Kill"), which terrorized Wichita from 1974-91. Ultimately, Dennis Radar confessed to the BTK killings of 10 individuals following his arrest in 2005.

Valadez sued Emmis Comm. (KSN-TV owner) and Spessard in 2005, alleging defamation, invasion of privacy and outrage. A jury in October 2006, awarded the plaintiff $300,000 for defamation and $800,000 for mental suffering. Roger Valadez died in November 2006, and the trial court threw out the defamation award in January 2007, ruling any harm to Valadez's reputation ended on his death, and reduced the $800,000 outrage award to $250,000.

The Kansas Supreme Court overturned the $250,000 judgment, holding that the plaintiff's decedent had not suffered severe emotional distress, evidenced by his absence of psychiatric or mental health treatment, and ruled any emotional upset the late Valadez endured would have occurred even if KSN-TV just reported the facts of his arrest. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, when Valadez died, the jury award in his favor was not yet final and had not been entered into the official court journal.

"We do not hold that the media is beyond the scope of tortious outrage actions in all circumstances," the court wrote. "We merely hold that under the facts of this case, the plaintiff failed to prove an injury severe enough to sustain his claim."

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

No comments:

Post a Comment