(CN) – A woman can pursue a defamation claim against a Colorado newspaper that falsely stated that she failed to testify at the trial of a man accused of being an accomplice in her husband’s murder, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled.
Han Ye Lee witnessed her husband’s slaying at the hands of an armed robber on Memorial Day 2001.
Robert Hood pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. Thomas Barnes was convicted as an accomplice, but his conviction was overturned by the appeals court, and he was acquitted in a second trial.
The Colorado Times, a Korean-language newspaper, published a column by Kim Chang Kuen called “The Grief of Loss of Husband, the Joy of Loss of Husband.”
Without mentioning Lee by name, Kuen wrote that Barnes went free because Lee failed to testify, or even appear, at his second trial.
Lee demanded a retraction, because she did appear and testify at both of Barnes’ trials. Kuen apologized and admitted that his information came from a rumor from a man who claimed he read about Lee’s non-attendance in the Colorado Springs Gazette.
The Gazette never published that information.
Lee sued the paper, but the trial court ruled for the newspaper on her claims of defamation and outrageous conduct.
On appeal, Judge Taubman ruled that Lee’s case must be reinstated, because she did not have to prove special damages, as the trial court ruled she must.
Taubman cited Lee’s answer to questions about the stir the article caused in the local Korean community. She stated:
“They were saying things like how could she be so stupid, and repeating the things said about me in the Colorado Times like it must be true or a newspaper would not write such things.”
Taubman concluded: “Defendants did not meet their burden to show there was no genuine issue of material fact because Lee’s answer to interrogatories stated that both she and others in the Korean community reasonably believed the column referred to her.”