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Supreme Court Refuses to Block Liability Suit Against Oliver Stone

By David G. Savage and Eric Harrison
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

The Supreme Court refused Monday to block a lawsuit at its preliminary stage that seeks to hold filmmaker Oliver Stone liable for a young couple’s murderous rampage in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The damage claim, filed on behalf of one victim’s family, maintains that Stone’s 1994 movie “Natural Born Killers” was intended to incite others to go on violent crime sprees.

If that were true, the movie would not be protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech, a Louisiana appeals court said last year in refusing to throw out the claim. But even that court conceded it was highly unlikely the victim’s lawyers will be able to prove Stone or anyone connected with the movie actually intended for its viewers to rob and murder.

“We are disappointed that the Supreme Court has declined to grant review at this stage of the case, but that decision was not unexpected,” said Jack M. Weiss, counsel for Time Warner Entertainment Co., which produced the movie.

Stone, Time Warner and others involved in making the film were sued by the relatives of Patsy Byers, a convenience store clerk in rural Louisiana who was shot and seriously wounded in March 1995. She died later of cancer.

The shooter, Sarah Edmonson, and her accomplice, Benjamin Darrus, had repeatedly watched a videotape of the movie before taking off on their crime spree. They murdered a Mississippi man before heading to Louisiana.

The film, which starred Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis, portrayed the pair on a killing rampage. The movie attracted controversy, drawing condemnation from politicians because of its violent content.

Monday’s decision clears the way for the Lousiana lawyers to depose witnesses and seek other evidence that might bolster their claim that the film was intended to inspire murder.