BOSTON (CN) – The ex-wife of deceased Boston frontman Brad Delp and the Boston Herald did not commit libel when they insinuated that the band’s guitarist drove the singer to suicide, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled.
Delp possessed one of the defining voices of 1970s rock, and in fact he recorded all the lead and backing vocals on Boston’s eponymous debut album, which sold 20 million copies in 1976, and spawned a series of hit singles, including “More Than a Feeling” and “Peace of Mind.”
But the latter was something Delp was never able to find for himself. While the band’s success continued with the release of its second album, and remained a popular live act for years, the singer was prone to depression.
In March 2007, his body was found on the floor of the master bedroom of his home in Atkinson, New Hampshire.
According to the police, two charcoal grills were found lit inside an adjoining bathroom, filing the bedroom with smoke. A suicide note paper-clipped to the neck of Delp’s t-shirt read, “I am a lonely soul.”
Following the singer’s death, the Boston Herald published a series of articles by writers Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa, in which Micki Delp said problems with Boston guitarist Tom Scholz, triggered her former husband’s depression and caused him to take his own life.
Scholz, a philanthropist, inventor and engineer in addition to being a musician — he invented the Rockman portable guitar amplifier — sued the newspaper and Micki Delp for defamation and libel.
The trial court dismissed the lawsuits after Micki Delp confirmed on the stand that she had made the statements about Scholz during an interview with the newspaper.
The court concluded that Delp’s statements could “only be reasonably perceived as an opinion” and were therefore protected speech under the First Amendment.
The Supreme Judicial Court agreed.
“We conclude that the newspaper articles and statements contained therein constitute nonactionable opinions based on disclosed nondefamatory facts that do not imply undisclosed defamatory facts,” the court ruled in a unanimous opinion.
“The statements even arguably attributing responsibility for Brad’s suicide to Scholz were statements of opinion and not verifiable fact, and therefore could not form the basis of a claim of defamation,” Justice Fernande Duffly wrote.
Scholz argued that implying that Delp’s despair over their professional relationship wrongfully blamed him for the suicide.
The court disagreed, explaining that despite inflammatory headlines like, “Pal’s Snub Made Delp Do it,” any reasonable reader would have realized that the content was speculation and definitive fact, especially the causes of suicide are particularly difficult to present in any way other than speculation.
“Although a view might be expressed as to the cause, rarely will it be the case that even those who were close to the individual will know what he or she was thinking and feeling when that final decision was made,” Duffly wrote. “While we can imagine rare circumstances in which the motivations for a suicide would be manifestly clear and unambiguous, this is not such a case.”
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