Wichita A Sedgwick County jury on Friday ordered a Wichita television station and its news director to pay a man $1.1 million for naming him as a possible suspect in the BTK serial killings.
Roger Valadez was seeking up to $2 million from Emmis Communications, then-owner of KSNW-TV in Wichita, and news director Todd Spessard for its coverage of Valadez's arrest on minor outstanding warrants.
The jury found that KSNW and Spessard defamed Valadez and their conduct was "extreme and outrageous" when the station used his name after he was arrested Dec. 1, 2004. It awarded Valadez $800,000 for mental suffering, humiliation and shame and $300,000 for damage to his reputation. It was not immediately clear how the payments would be divided between the station's owner and Spessard.
Valadez was never charged in connection with the slayings, and he was cleared long before the arrest of Dennis Rader, who confessed to all 10 BTK killings.
Valadez said after the trial that he was satisfied with the verdict.
But Valadez also said money will never completely make up for what he went through that day.
"It is just something I will never forget - something that will be with me the rest of my life," he said.
KSNW's defense attorney Bernard Rhodes said he would appeal the verdict, saying it was against the First Amendment and calling it the "wrong verdict verdict based upon the wrong law."
Spessard said all media is going to have to look at the verdict and the way they do things. He insisted the station did nothing wrong in reporting the facts.
"This is the kind of ruling that can stifle the dissemination of information and limit the ability of the media to inform the public," he said.
Jury foreman Tammy Munyon said jurors were especially struck by Spessard's testimony that he did not care about public perception, and did not take into account Valadez's feelings.
"I thought all the coverage was extreme," Munyon said. "I think by stating his name, they crossed the line."
She said jurors all agreed Valadez was a suspect in the BTK killings, but that he stopped being a suspect by early Dec. 2 and the media knew by 9 a.m. that day that he was no longer a BTK suspect.
"I don't think any of the television stations ought to be proud of what they did that day," Valadez's attorney, Craig Shultz, told jurors in closing arguments, but he noted that all the other media reporting the case withheld Valadez's name.
"They gambled with Roger's life, and Roger is the only one who suffered," Shultz said.
In his closing arguments Friday, Rhodes pointed to evidence that showed police considered Valadez a suspect in the BTK killings.
He said a person can be defamed only if what was reported is false and said the station's reporting of events were accurate.
"I am sorry Roger Valadez was a suspect, but the fact is that he was," Rhodes said.