Wegerle family sues Rader
03/27/2012 11:49 AM
03/27/2012 11:49 AM
Bill Wegerle was falsely accused of the murder of his wife, Vicki, in 1986.
Now Wegerle and his two children are suing the man who really killed their wife and mother: Dennis Rader, the admitted BTK serial killer.
The lawsuit brought by Bill Wegerle, Stephanie Clyne and Brandon Wegerle is the second against Rader since he pleaded guilty June 27 to killing 10 people over three decades.
"We want to keep him from ever profiting from his crimes," said Jim Thompson, the Wichita lawyer representing the Wegerles.
Lawyer Jim McIntyre filed a similar case last week on behalf of Carolyn Hook, daughter of Marine Hedge, whom Rader killed in 1985.
Both lawsuits seek to attach a court judgment to any financial reward Rader may realize from the sale of his story.
And there will be more before Rader's sentencing, which is scheduled for Aug. 17.
"We should be filing another one within the next week," Thompson said.
McIntyre also expects more families affected by BTK's killings to follow suit. He filed the Hedge family suit as part of a class action, which still needs to be certified by a judge.
"Eventually, I'd expect them to all show up in court," McIntyre said. "Ultimately, I expect them to all end up in one forum, whether it be part of a class action or with multiple clients and multiple lawyers."
Bill Wegerle has a unique case, his lawyer said, because he lived for years under the cloud of being suspected in his wife's brutal murder.
"He had to live with that for so long," Thompson said.
And the suit notes that as a toddler, Brandon Wegerle was at home with his mother when she was strangled.
Vicki Wegerle's killing went unsolved for nearly 20 years. Most of that time, it wasn't officially tied to the BTK case.
Then in March 2004, after a quarter-century of silence, BTK sent a letter to The Eagle. It contained a copy of Wegerle's driver's license, which was missing, and pictures of her bound and on the floor of her home.
Wegerle's suit seeks unspecified damages for wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It also seeks damages for trespassing, "intrusion upon seclusion" for entering her house under false pretenses and "intentional misrepresentation."
The last two claims stem from Rader's statement in court June 27 that he gained access to Wegerle's house by posing as a telephone repairman.
Usually, such damages would be limited by law to $250,000.
A Kansas law already strives to prevent criminals from selling rights to the stories of their wrongdoing. Such laws began in the 1970s, inspired by New York mass murderer David Berkowitz, who went by the nickname "Son of Sam."
The so-called Son of Sam laws, however, were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as being in violation of the First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The high court said that, by attaching conditions to payment, the government was controlling speech.
"You clearly can't keep him or anybody else from writing about this — that's what the First Amendment is all about," said Jack Focht, a veteran Wichita lawyer. "It's been struck down every place it was challenged."
The Kansas Son of Sam law provides that any money from the sale of his story must be paid into a state fund for victims' compensation. The law provides for payment to specific victims who have civil judgments against the convict.
So Thompson said the lawsuits ensure that any money Rader made would go to the proper families.