Skip to content

Judge dismisses 'Natural Born Killers' incitement case

Post categories

  1. Libel and Privacy

    NMU         LOUISIANA         Privacy         Mar 13, 2001    

Judge dismisses ‘Natural Born Killers’ incitement case

  • After two years of discovery, the court ruled the writer and distributor did not intend to incite violence and were not liable for a killing spree.

A Louisiana trial judge dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit against the makers of the film “Natural Born Killers” on March 12. District Judge Robert H. Morrison of the 21st Judicial District Court in Amite, La., ruled that the plaintiffs had no proof that writer-director Oliver Stone or distributor Warner Bros. intended to incite violence.

The lawsuit began as the result of a shooting of a convenience store clerk. The estate of Patsy Byers, who was killed by Sarah Edmondson and Benjamin Darrus during a robbery, sued her assailants, Edmondson’s parents, several insurers, the companies that produced the film and the director. The estate claimed Stone’s film inspired her attackers and that he and others should have known that such crimes would result from the distribution of a film that treats “individuals who commit such violence as celebrities and heroes.”

Edmondson and Darras are serving 35-year sentences for killing Byers. Darras is also serving a life sentence for another murder from the same crime spree.

“I think this will . . . set a major example that will discourage looking for some news program or documentary or film every time there is a tragic shooting and try to find someone responsible other than the perpetrator of the violent act,” Time Warner attorney Walter Dellinger told the Los Angeles Times.

“This ruling is important not only for filmmakers but for people who make documentaries and news programs, because they could also be attacked for depicting violence that some people will allege was suggested to them,” Dellinger said.

Morrison originally dismissed the lawsuit, but a Louisiana appellate court reinstated the case in 1998. Two years of discovery ensued, which included a deposition of Stone.

(Byers v. Edmondson; Media Counsel: Walter Dellinger, Time Warner) DB

Related stories:

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Return to: RCFP Home; News Page

Stay informed by signing up for our mailing list

Keep up with our work by signing up to receive our monthly newsletter. We'll send you updates about the cases we're doing with journalists, news organizations, and documentary filmmakers working to keep you informed.