First, the good news: The defamation case against Dixie Chick Natalie Maines was dismissed. Libel and slander are fairly hard to prove, in this country, because the litigant has to establish "malice." Terry Hobbs's legal team failed to do so.
The lawsuit, filed in November 2008, claimed Maines' comments were "malicious, libelous, slanderous and false" and sought damages.
But U.S. District Judge Brian Miller ruled Tuesday that Hobbs couldn't establish "actual malice" — that Maines knew the statements were false or that she made them with "reckless disregard" of the truth.
To me the larger point was that she said nothing untrue. She never accused Terry Hobbs of murder, as he'd claimed, and as was unfortunately reported by numerous sloppy reporters and bloggers. Every statement I read, from her, at the time, struck me as quite careful. Judge Miller found the same; that she'd based her statements on court documents, and did not embellish.
Miller noted Maines rejected changes to the letter she posted on the Web site because she didn't want to stray from information she'd received from the West Memphis Three's attorneys.
"All of the legal stuff is copied directly from the court filing and legal papers that were written by the defense team," Maines wrote to an e-mail to her manager, which was included in the court record. "I don't want to put any of that in my own words."
So, today we can appreciate a sensible court decision, with regards to a spurious law suit. The irony, though, is not lost on me. As hard as it is to sue a person for libel, in this country, it is apparently all too easy to convict children of murder, with absolutely no physical evidence, let alone logic, and leave them, to rot, in prison for years.
Now, the bad news: Compelling new witness testimony (previously discussed here) will not be considered by the Arkansas Supreme Court, in the appeal, from death row inmate Damien Echols.
Three women’s witness statements will not be considered by the Arkansas Supreme Court in deciding whether they’ll order a new trial for convicted murderer Damien Echols.
Justices denied a motion for staying Echols’ appeal and refused to consider new witness statements submitted for review earlier this month.
No written explanation accompanied the decision. Officials with the Arkansas Supreme Court in Little Rock said it is common for motion rulings not to have written explanations.
In November KTHV ran a three part series, on the case, asking, "Was Justice Served for the WM3 & the Victims?" It gives a pretty decent overview.
Also worth seeing is a surprisingly thorough story on the appeals and the evidence.
Echols remains hopeful that once this goes to a federal court, he will be granted a new trial. I, like Natalie Maines, remain astonished that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, are still in prison over 15 years later.