(CN) – A federal judge nixed defamation claims against a Michael Capuzzo book published by Penguin that says a woman slept with a forensic artist known for his “overt sexuality.”
Penguin Group published “The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World’s Most Perplexing Cold Cases” in August 2010. The nonfiction book, authored by Pulitzer Prize-nominated Capuzzo, concerns the history of the Philadelphia-based forensic association, the Vidocq Society.
It describes founding Vidocq member Frank Bender, a forensic artist internationally acclaimed for using decayed skulls to create sculptures of crime victims’ faces, as well as for making age-progression sculptures of fugitives’ faces.
Capuzzo writes that Bender’s assistant of nearly 30 years, Joan Crescenz, aided Bender during his terminal illness until his death in 2011.
But Crescenz claims that the book falsely refers to her as one of Bender’s girlfriends with whom he had a sexual relationship.
In a federal lawsuit against Penguin and Capuzzo, Crescenz claimed defamation and false light invasion of privacy.
She said Frank and his late wife Jan had an “open marriage” of nearly 30 years, that Frank was known for his “overt sexuality” and “self-professed sexual exploits,” and that Crescenz herself has been married for more than 20 years and has three children.
Penguin and Capuzzo moved for summary judgment, and Crescenz also moved for partial summary judgment on the burden of proof.
U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman granted the defendants’ motion and denied Crescenz’s motion on Monday.
Based on a list of undisputed facts that existed prior to the book’s publishing, Crescenz failed to ascribe negligence to Penguin and Capuzzo, according to the ruling. Bender’s studio contained “at least one sculpture of the genitalia of one of his girlfriends,” and Esquire magazine published an article in 2004 that described Crescenz as Bender’s “second wife,” Hillman found.
The judge also threw out Crescenz’s claim that the book’s publisher, William Shinker, negligently disregarded her July 2010 email informing him of the inaccuracies in a galley copy Bender gave her.
“Crescenz was disgruntled about several passages in the book about her, but she never explicitly stated in her email that she did not have a sexual relationship with Bender,” the 20-page opinion states. “Even if her email could be read to mean that she refuted having a sexual relationship with Bender, Crescenz’s email does not provide any proof, other than her personal concerns, to discredit the other resources upon which Capuzzo based his reporting.”
Hillman brushed aside Crescenz’s claim that Capuzzo never asked her whether she had a sexual relationship with Bender.
“Capuzzo reported in his book about Bender and Crescenz’s relationship based upon his observations of Bender and Crescenz over the course of seven years, and from what others had told him,” the judge wrote. “Even if Capuzzo had directly asked Crescenz whether she had a sexual relationship with Bender, and she denied that she did, it would have been reasonable for Capuzzo to conclude that she was not being truthful based on other information he had gathered.”
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