Kansas Supreme Court Schedules Oral Arguments for BTK Media Case


The Kansas Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for January 26, 2009, for the appeal that, among other issues, will raise the question of what are the limits to a news organization's rights to report the news. Melanie Valadez, Adm. of Estate of Roger G. Valadez, Appellee, v. Emmis Communications and Todd Spessard, Appellants.

The appeal was originally going to be heard by the state appellate court, but this fall the state's high court selected it on its own accord as a case that should instead be heard in that venue. Member Bernie Rhodes (Business Litigation - Kansas City) filed a brief with the Kansas Court of Appeals in May this year on behalf of KSN, a television station that in 2004 had identified a possible suspect in the BTK serial murders in its ongoing coverage of the matter. The station had been ordered in 2006 to pay $1.1 million in damages to Roger Valadez, whom Wichita police investigated as a BTK suspect.

In the brief, Mr. Rhodes argued that the Wichita news outlet performed journalism that complied with the ethics of the profession, in the station's efforts to report what eventually proved to be the truth, i.e., that Mr. Valadez was, in fact, being investigated in connection with the BTK case. Mr. Rhodes argued that other broadcast journalists also had identified the suspect, by showing footage of the outside of his house, as well as reporting on his age and address. (These stations had not included the suspect's name in their coverage).

A Kansas jury decided against the television station in the 2006 trial, holding that the television station acted outrageously and damaged Mr. Valadez' reputation by publicly airing his name after his arrest on Dec. 1, 2004 on unrelated charges. The defamation verdict was subsequently overturned by a judge, though $250,000 of the outrage verdict was left intact. Mr. Valadez was released the day after his arrest by Wichita police when a DNA test eliminated him as a BTK suspect. He died a month after the initial 2006 trial against KSN. Dennis Rader of Park City would later confess to committing the BTK murders.

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