Last June, the national media descended on a Liberty County farmhouse after a psychic told local authorities that thirty dismembered bodies were buried in a mass grave there.
Now, the Hardin homeowners have filed a lawsuit against the psychic, Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, and media outlets claiming the publicity caused them to suffer lost wages and mental anguish.
The tip from “Angel,” a self-pronounced psychic who is referred to as “Jane Doe” in the court filings, turned out to be completely false, and the lawsuit claims that the sheriff’s office should not have repeated the psychic’s false statements to media organizations.
When the story broke on June 7, 2011, reporters from all over the world arrived at the Liberty County home of Joe Bankson and Gena Charlton. Some preliminary stories on the Internet reported actual bodies being found. According to the lawsuit, the New York Times “published statements of facts claiming, among other things, that ‘up to 30 dismembered bodies [were] found near Houston.’” The only print medium being sued, attorney Andrew Sommerman said the Times tweeted incorrect information. CNN, Thomson Reuters, ABC News, Belo and Houston television station KPRC were also named in the lawsuit, Anna Merlan of the Dallas Observer reported.
“The media owes a duty to the public to make sure that what they report is true. One of the things that scares me is that information is coming out so quickly. It’s all about beating a deadline, being the first to get something out. It’s only an excuse to say we don’t have time to investigate,” Sommerman told the Houston Chronicle.
The plantiffs’ lawyer also said that the trucking company Bankson and Charlton own suffered losses as a result of their connection to “Angel’s” fabricated story. They are seeking unspecified damages from the defendants because of the “public hatred, contempt, and financial injury” they endured.
It’s unclear how the 48-year-old psychic reacted to being served court papers, but here’s what she said to KHOU last year when she submitted a false report to police:
“They up front asked me how I got the information, and I am a reverend. I am a prophet and I get my information from Jesus and the angels, and I told them that I had 32 angels with me and they were giving me the information and then it went from there,” she said.
(There is a one-year statute of limitations for defamation under Texas law, and Bankson and Charlton filed their lawsuit with a day to spare.)