The Kansas Supreme Court today reversed a jury verdict awarded on behalf of a Wichita man who was incorrectly identified by a TV station as a suspect in the BTK murder investigation.
A Sedgwick County jury originally awarded Roger G. Valadez $800,000 in October 2006 for mental suffering, shame and humiliation, and $300,000 for injury to reputation. His widow, Melanie Valadez, was substituted as plaintiff in the case after Roger Valadez died.
Sedgwick County District Judge Paul Clark ruled that the award for injury to Valadez's reputation ended upon his death because the journal entry of judgment had not been filed before he died. The Supreme Court affirmed that ruling today.
Clark also had previously reduced the $800,000 portion of the verdict to $250,000 under Kansas law. The Supreme Court, in its action today, reversed the $250,000 award, finding that "while Valadez provided testimony that he suffered emotional distress, he failed to present evidence that the distress was extreme."
The jury award was based on reporting by KSN; its owner, Emmis Communications, and news director Todd Spessard. The station linked Valadez to the BTK murder investigation after he was arrested in December 2004 and questioned by authorities, including some officials involved in the BTK case.
Dennis Rader was arrested in February 2005 in connection with the murders and ultimately pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder.
Justice Eric Rosen said in today's unanimous decision that the court determined that the plaintiff didn't present sufficient evidence to rise to the level of extreme emotional distress, something that was required for Valadez to recover damages.
"It was incumbent on Valadez to demonstrate that he suffered severe emotional distress beyond what he experienced as a result of the defendants' constitutionally protected activities," Rosen wrote.