By: Mark Fitzgerald

Man Claimed Weekly Implicated Him In Disappearance

by Mark Fitzgerald

Is it a chill on the community press or just desserts for a small-town
paper that behaved like a supermarket tabloid?

Attorneys on both sides of a libel action are drawing different lessons
from the $300,000 the 4,000-circulation Washington County News in Chatom,
Ala., is paying to settle a lawsuit from a man who claimed the weekly
implicated him in the still-unsolved disappearance of a young mother 22
years ago.

In 1997, the paper covered the approaching 20th anniversary of the
disappearance with articles quoting unnamed sources who said Cathy Sue
Carpenter was raped and sodomized at an orgy and later killed. Fruitdale
resident J.E. Williams, whose name never appeared in the series, sued
the paper and Managing Editor Larry O’Hara in 1998, saying the articles
linked him to the disappearance.

‘This is a small town, and no one had to guess who it was [the paper]
was talking about who raped, sodomized, and killed this poor girl – and
there was no evidence any of it had ever happened,’ said Mobile attorney
Henry H. ‘Hank’ Caddell, who revealed the terms of the settlement last

‘It was the insurance carrier for the newspaper which elected to settle,’
said News attorney Dennis Bailey. ‘The newspaper would have preferred to
fight the case in court.’


Mark Fitzgerald ( is editor at large
for E&P.

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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