Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ga. App. Ct. Sides with Atlanta Journal-Constitution in Jewell Libel Case

Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, GA, USAImage via WikipediaIn G. Watson Bryant Jr., Executor of the Estate of Richard Jewell v. Cox Enterprises, Inc. d/b/a The Atlanta Journal-Constitution et al. (Case No. A11A0510), the Court of Appeals of Georgia last month upheld the trial court's finding that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did not defame the late Richard Jewell when it reported that anonymous law enforcement officials considered the security guard a suspect in the 1996 bombing of Centennial Olympic Park.

The heirs of Jewell are expected to appeal the ruling.  Jewell, who died in 2007, initially was considered a hero when he notified the Georgia Bureau of Investigation about an unattended knapsack left under a park bench that contained a pipe bomb. Subsequently, the Journal-Constitution wrote articles in which it said unnamed authorities were preliminarily investigating Jewell as a possible suspect in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing that killed two and injured 100. Jewell was exonerated in 1996 and Eric Rudolph was later convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the attack.

Jewell sued the Cox Enterprises-owned Atlanta daily in 1997 for defamation, claiming his reputation, career and life were devastated by the paper repeatedly identifying him as "the man who investigators believe may have planted the pipe bomb." In its 29-page decision, the Georgia appellate court said the
defendant's articles were substantially true, and though sympathetic to the ordeal Jewell endured, wrote: "A reasonable reader would have understood the information to be preliminary in nature and published during the very early stages of the ongoing investigation." Georgia courts deemed Jewell a limited-purpose public figure who had to satisfy the higher burden of proof of actual malice to prevail in his defamation claim.

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