Boston Libel Case to Begin Wednesday

By: (AP) Judge Ernest Murphy was working on low-profile cases in a small city south of Boston when his life suddenly changed thanks to one newspaper story.

The Boston Herald reported in February 2002 Murphy had been confronted by prosecutors over what they thought were lenient sentences in his New Bedford court, including eight years? probation for a 17-year-old convicted of two rapes and an armed robbery.

The Herald reported Murphy said of the 14-year-old rape victim: "Tell her to get over it."

The story was picked up by media outlets across the country, and Murphy was bombarded with hate mail, death threats, and calls for his removal from the bench. In an Internet chat room, someone suggested Murphy?s own teenage daughters should be raped.

One letter-writer sent Murphy a piece of excrement wrapped in toilet paper and wrote, "I?m going to wipe you out." Another enclosed the Herald article with a bullet hole drawn between Murphy?s eyes. "YOU?RE DEAD! ?GET OVER IT? YOU BASTARD!" was written in red ink.

Two of Murphy?s daughters were so frightened, they went to live with family members and friends. Murphy went out and bought a .357 Magnum, he said in court documents.

Murphy, who claims he never said "tell her to get over it," has sued the Herald and four of its writers for libel. The case is scheduled to go to trial on Wednesday.

Citing more than a dozen articles, Murphy accuses the newspaper of waging a "malicious and relentless campaign" that has destroyed his personal and professional reputation. He also plans to use statements a Herald reporter made on television to prove his "malicious state of mind" in writing the articles.

David Wedge, the main reporter on the story, said on the Fox News Channel?s "The O?Reilly Factor" three weeks after the story ran in the Herald that Murphy had made disparaging remarks about other crime victims, not just the 14-year-old rape victim.

When host Bill O?Reilly asked Wedge whether he was sure Murphy said the rape victim should "get over it," Wedge replied, "Yes. He made this comment to three lawyers. He knows he said it, and everybody else that knows this judge knows that he said it."

Wedge later said in a deposition that only one of the lawyers heard the comment firsthand and the other two just repeated it to Wedge. The prosecutor who claims to have heard the comment, David Crowley, said in his deposition he recalled Murphy saying the words "get over it," but couldn?t remember the judge?s exact quote.

Bristol District Attorney Paul Walsh Jr., one of Wedge?s sources for the story, said last week that the way Crowley described it to him, it sounded as if Murphy said it callously.

"I don?t know the exact words, but as it was told to me," the remark "indicated circumstances that were disrespectful to a victim," Walsh said. "No matter what the exact words were ... it seemed outrageous to us."

The Herald?s lawyer, Robert Dushman, said Wedge went to Walsh, as the highest-ranking prosecutor in the county, to confirm what he had heard from another source. He said he later confirmed it with Crowley.

"Our position is that Dave Wedge did a very careful job in reporting and researching this story. He talked to three different people, one of whom was a direct witness. Each of them gave him substantially the same information," Dushman said.

But Cooper said the way Wedge reported the remark made Murphy sound heartless. If Murphy had said, "She?s got to get over it," that would have shown he felt compassion toward the girl.

Cooper said Murphy expressed concern for the victim and asked court personnel and the defendant?s lawyer about making counseling available to her.

Wedge, 34, declined to comment on the case but said he stood behind his reporting.

Experts said that despite questions over the exact quote and Wedge?s comments on "The O?Reilly Factor," proving libel could be difficult.

"I could hate you, and I could think you?re a terrible judge and want to bring you down, but I could still 100 percent believe my sources and believe my stories," said Rodney Smolla, a libel expert.


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