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A federal appeals court yesterday threw out a defamation judgment against a filmmaker critical of former President Clinton’s alleged role in the infamous Arkansas “boys on the tracks” case, ruling two sheriff’s deputies mentioned in the documentary had no standing to sue.
In dismissing a $598,750 judgment against Patrick Matrisciana, president of Jeremiah Films, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis concluded the deputies were indeed public figures and failed to prove the documentary was reckless in its portrayal of them as law enforcement officers implicated in the murders of two young boys and a subsequent cover-up of their deaths.
The video, “Obstruction of Justice: the Mena Connection,” focused on the unsolved deaths of Kevin Ives and Don Henry. In the documentary, Pulaski County sheriff’s Lts. Jay Campbell and Kirk Lane were listed among six law enforcement officers that alleged eyewitnesses said could be implicated “in the murders and the subsequent cover-up.”
The court said the sheriff’s lieutenants were public figures and had to prove Matrisciana knew the information was false or that he was reckless in weighing information presented in the film.
Ives and Henry were found dead in 1987 after being hit by a train while laying on the tracks. Their deaths were initially ruled accidental due to marijuana intoxication, but after a second autopsy a lawsuit filed by Ives’ parents suggested the boys were murdered and their bodies laid on the tracks.
“As the theory goes, they were first killed and their bodies then laid on the tracks to make their deaths appear accidental,” the court wrote.
Matrisciana’s defense at his trial centered on his right to freedom of expression.
He said that, according to his research, the boys were walking down the train tracks about 4 a.m. Aug. 23, 1987, when they came upon a small plane dropping a cargo of illegal drugs as it flew without lights 100 feet from the ground. A witness reported seeing the boys seized by two men, and their bodies were found after they had been run over by a train.
The documentary alleged that illegal drugs were routinely flown into the airport at Mena in western Arkansas during the 1980s and that Clinton, then Arkansas’ governor, knew about it but did nothing to combat it.
Matrisciana, who also produced “The Clinton Chronicles,” which took a highly critical view of the former president, said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles that justice had been served.
WND Editor Joseph Farah, who served as an expert witness on journalistic standards and practices for the defense in the 1999 case, characterized the verdict as a victory for the First Amendment.
“There was a big problem with the jury verdict from the start,” said Farah. “For starters, the cops were indeed investigated by law enforcement officials in Arkansas. An eyewitness placed them at the scene for Jean Duffey, a former Saline County prosecutor herself, and Linda Ives, the mother of one of the boys, both of whom participated in the making of the video. Furthermore, even if the cops were innocent of any involvement in the case, they were not libeled by the video, because there was no ‘reckless disregard for the truth’ by the filmmakers, as I testified in the trial.”
Farah also said the case has some striking parallels to a $165 million defamation suit pending against WorldNetDaily over an 18-part investigative series into political corruption in Tennessee involving former Vice President Al Gore. A legal defense fund has been established on behalf of WorldNetDaily.
Get the video that sparked the legal action, “Obstruction of Justice: the Mena Connection,” at WorldNetDaily’s online store.