Jurors take weekend off from lawsuit by 2 lawmen


A federal jury will resume deliberations Monday on whether a 1996 film about the mysterious 1987 deaths of two boys on Saline County railroad tracks defamed two law enforcement officers.
    The 60-minute film, Obstruction of Justice: the Mena Connection, produced by Patrick Matrisciana of Hemet, Calif., states near the end, orally and in writing, that eyewitnesses implicated six law enforcement officers in killing the boys and covering it up.
    It then names those officers. Among them are Jay Campbell and Kirk Lane, who worked as Pulaski County sheriff’s office drug detectives at the time of the boys’ deaths and are now sheriff’s office lieutenants.
    Campbell and Lane filed a lawsuit in 1997 against Matrisciana, who does business under the names Citizens for an Honest Government, Integrity Films and Jeremiah Films, and whose other films have included The Clinton Chronicles.
    The deputies contend that in his quest to make money off right-wing conspiracy theories involving President Clinton as he sought reelection, Matrisciana made the video, which he called a documentary, on the basis of mere speculation and unfounded allegations.
    Testimony in a week-long federal trial in Little Rock before a visiting judge, U.S. District Judge Warren K. Urbom of Lincoln, Neb., ended Friday afternoon, and jurors deliberated about 3 hours before deciding to rest for the weekend.
    Before adjourning for the day, they asked for a copy of the First Amendment and asked to watch the video again. Urbom told them to adhere to jury instructions on their First Amendment questions, but he gave them the videotape.
    Matrisciana’s defense has centered on his First Amendment rights to freedom of expression and his reliance on others who diligently researched the matter.
    Those others are primarily Linda Ives, mother of one of the slain boys and a crusader for 12 years to expose those she thinks are responsible, and Jean Duffey, who headed a drug task force in Saline County until moving to Texas in 1991 amid unproven accusations of impropriety leveled by Dan Harmon when he was prosecuting attorney.
    The women testified that they believed then, and still believe, that the words in the video are true. They believe that the boys, Ives and Don Henry, 16, were walking along the tracks about 4 a.m. Aug. 23, 1987, when they came upon a small plane dropping a cargo of illegal drugs as it flew without lights about 100 feet off the ground.
    Speculation is that the plane was flying to the Polk County town of Mena but couldn’t land with drugs on board.
    Linda Ives believes the boys’ inadvertent interruption of a clandestine operation was seen by someone waiting to pick up the drugs, and that the boys, knowing they’d been spotted, ran toward a pay telephone to call for help.
    A man who had stopped by the nearby Ranchette grocery store in Alexander after drinking in a bar later reported that he saw the boys head for the phone, but two men grabbed them, beat them and stuffed them into a patrol car, where another officer waited.
    Ives believes the boys were killed or at least rendered unconscious before their bodies were placed on the tracks, where a train ran over them.
    Taking advantage of the two men’s description, which could have fit Campbell and Lane, Harmon subpoenaed the two officers to appear before a 1988 grand jury investigating the deaths, the officers contend. But first, they say, he spread the word that “the killers” were about to testify.
    Campbell and Lane contend that Harmon, now in prison on federal racketeering and drug charges, was simply trying to save himself. Though the public didn’t know it at the time, the two drug officers were investigating allegations against Harmon. They contend he found that out and sought to pre-empt them and destroy their credibility, thus ending their investigation.
    Though Ives and Duffey said this week that they grew to disbelieve Harmon before they helped make the video, they insisted they got further corroboration of the “Campbell and Lane scenario” from John Brown.
    Brown, a private investigator who had looked into the case as a Saline County detective and appears throughout the film, denied this week that he ever identified Campbell and Lane as the killers. In fact, Brown said, he warned Matrisciana against putting the men’s names in the video.
    But Matrisciana and the women contended that Brown had some say-so over the final product and didn’t disagree then. Brown also bought 300 copies of the video, defense attorney John Wesley Hall Jr. noted.
    Plaintiffs’ attorney Jim Rhodes brought out Friday, during Duffey’s cross-examination, that a second man who had reported being at the grocery store that night, whom Duffey cited as a corroborating eyewitness, had himself been arrested by Campbell and Lane.
    Duffey acknowledged that she didn’t know about that arrest — and thus the man’s possible motive to invent his “eyewitness account” -- when she helped write the video’s narrative.
    But she, too, contends that Harmon sought to tarnish her reputation because her officers were learning incriminating information about him. She testified this week that Harmon falsely accused her of stealing task-force money and wanted to jail her, to thwart her work, but she got a tip that she would be killed in jail, so she became a fugitive by moving to Texas.
    Mentioning several police agencies' failure to solve the murder case, Rhodes asked Duffey if she thought that “any and everybody who has failed to solve this mystery is involved in a mass cover-up or conspiracy to protect Jay Campbell and Kirk Lane.”
    “I don’t use the word ‘conspiracy, ’ but to the rest of your statement, absolutely,” she replied.
    Of at least seven investigations by agencies with access to scientific analysis, “none of them have agreed with your beliefs, have they?” Rhodes asked.
    Duffey replied that they “amazingly” had not -- at least, publicly.
    Rhodes then named at least five other scenarios that have circulated about how the boys may have been killed, suggesting that she and Ives simply developed tunnel-vision on the Campbell and Lane theory.
    Rhodes suggested that perhaps Duffey and Ives didn’t so much really believe that the two officers killed the boys but that a videotape editor, David Manasian, added the names to the video as an afterthought, and the two women recklessly allowed the inclusion.
    “The bottom line,” Rhodes told jurors in closing arguments, “is there was absolutely no evidence to support what’s in this statement” in the video. He told jurors that “if you don’t find this defamatory, we’re putting our stamp of approval on the right to say anything at any time about anybody, whether it’s corroborated or not.”
    Hall argued that even if the statement is wrong, it wasn’t made recklessly and “the truth doesn’t really matter if you can get the question out in the open and bring about free debate. ... The public decides what the truth is.”
    He also noted that “Linda Ives has every possible motive to get the right person” and therefore wouldn’t name someone she didn’t truly suspect.

Copyright © 1999, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. All rights reserved.