LOS ANGELES (CN) – A woman who murdered her best friend should not be allowed to profit from books about it, the victim’s family says in court.
The surviving family of murdered teen Michele “Missy” Avila on Tuesday sued her convicted murderer Karen Severson in Superior Court, to try to stop her from profiting from the killing through book sales.
Severson and Laura Ann Doyle were childhood friends of Avila. Both were convicted in 1990 and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for the 1985 murder of 17-year-old Avila.
The murder gained notoriety, and actress Patty Duke portrayed Missy’s mother, Irene Avila, in a 1992 TV movie about the crime, called “A Killer Among Friends.”
Lead plaintiff Irene Avila says Missy was 4 feet, 11 inches tall and weighed about 97 lbs. when Severson and Doyle lured her to a campground at the Angeles Crest National Forest on Oct. 1, 1985, where they “assaulted, battered, tortured, disfigured, maimed, and murdered” her.
Irene Avila says Severson “physically abused” Missy in several ways, including tearing her ear by yanking off her earrings and using a knife to “hack off [Missy’s] long waist-length brown hair.”
Severson then shoved Missy into Big Tujunga Creek and held her under water until she drowned, Irene Avila says in the complaint.
She says Severson and Doyle then placed a 100-lb., 5-foot-long log on top of Missy’s body and left her face down in the water. Hikers found her body on Oct. 4, 1985.
Contemporary news reports indicated the girls murdered Missy out of jealousy and accused her of sleeping with their boyfriends.
Immediately after committing the murder, Irene Avila says, Severson ingratiated herself with the Avila family by stopping over to express sympathy, pretending to help find the “‘true killer'” and visiting on Thanksgiving.
Severson and her 2-year-old daughter even moved in with the Avila family afterward, according to news reports.
Irene Avila says Severson “led a campaign of misdirection and obfuscation” by “directing friends and family to conduct fruitless searches based on … Severson’s lies and misstatements.”
During the same time period, Irene Avila says, many of Missy’s possessions were taken from the family’s home, including photographs, jewelry and audiotapes of Missy and Severson.
The charade lasted until July 1988 when Eva Chirumbolo, who had ridden with the three teenagers to the campground, revealed the truth to police and helped prosecutors convict Severson and Doyle. Chirumbolo was not charged in the crime.
Severson and Doyle were released from prison in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
Since her release from prison, Severson has written and published two books about Missy’s murder. (Graph 69)
Irena Avila says the first is titled “Hope Beyond the Fences” and was published in June 2013 by defendant Westbow Press under Severson’s pen name, Kay Crayne.
She says the second book, “My Life I Lived It,” was published on Sept. 30, 2014 to coincide with the coming anniversary of Missy’s murder.
The book was published by defendants LRT Entertainment, LRT Music Group and LRT Distribution.
Irene Avila says both books contain false and libelous information about the entire Avila family and the publishers did not determine the accuracy of the statements before publishing.
Missy’s parents, Irene and Ernest Sr., her brothers, Ernest Jr., and Christopher, and her sister-in-law, Shavaun, accuse Severson of wrongful death and personal injury.
They accuse Severson and co-defendants LRT, Lisa Thomas, Audra Cheek, Westbow Press, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, HarperCollins Publishing, News Corporation, and News Corp. of defamation, libel and slander, emotional distress, conversion and theft, and civil rights violations.
They accuse Audra Cheek and Lisa Thomas of threats and coercion for posting threats against the family members on Facebook.
The Avilas seek reimbursement for funeral expenses and burial costs, return of personal property, and general, special, punitive and exemplary damages for theft and conversion, wrongful death, personal injury, threats and coercion, defamation and other charges.
They are represented by Nina Salarno-Ashford, with Ashford & Strasser, of Auburn.
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