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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:The Smithville Times published a series of articles, editorials and letters to the editor in late 2001 and early 2002 regarding the investigation of Stacey Stites’ murder and the subsequent trial of her accused murderer, Rodney Reed. On April 23, 1996, the body of Stites, a 19-year-old woman, was discovered partially undressed beside a country road in Bastrop County. Stites had been sexually assaulted and strangled. Initially, the victim’s fianc�, a Giddings police officer, was a suspect, but DNA evidence from semen found in Stites’ body diverted the focus to Reed. Police arrested Reed, and a trial court eventually convicted him of capital murder and sentenced him to death. Charles Penick was Bastrop County’s district attorney at the time of Reed’s trial. Penick enlisted the Texas Office of the Attorney General to lead the prosecution. Assistant Attorney General Lisa Tanner acted as chief prosecutor. The Smithville Times covered the story of the murder investigation and Reed’s trial from 1996 through 2002. The paper assigned Tyanna Tyler, a reporter for the Smithville Times, to cover Reed’s habeas corpus hearing in 2001. Thereafter, Tyler continued to research Reed’s case. Tyler authored a series of 10 articles highlighting why reasonable doubt existed in the Reed case and who may have acted inappropriately in an official capacity. The Smithville Times ran the editorial series from Aug. 2 to Oct. 18, 2001. Eight of the editorials presented a detailed review of the evidence and are void of commentary about the prosecution. Only the opening and closing editorials, published on Aug. 2 and Oct. 18, criticized the prosecution. Penick is never mentioned in the 10-part editorial series by name or by title. In early December 2001, David Fisher, a local citizen whose research Tyler used in her articles, filed a complaint with the Travis County District Attorney’s Special Prosecution Public Integrity Unit against Penick, Tanner, Attorney General Greg Abbott and the Capital Litigation Division of the attorney general’s office. Fisher’s complaint alleged violations of Reed’s constitutional rights, prosecutorial misconduct and a “conspiracy to commit fraud.” The Smithville Times reported Fisher’s filing on Dec. 13, 2001, in an article with the headline “Fraud Charges Filed on DA in Reed Case.” This article was not part of the 10-part editorial series, which had concluded on Oct. 18. Although the Dec. 13 article accurately reported the substance of Fisher’s complaint, it is undisputed that this article contained several errors. In a letter to the editor in the next day’s paper, Fisher “offered corrections to the three errors contained in the December 13 article.” Penick sued Cox Newspapers and Tyler, asserting that 13 articles, editorials and letters to the editor published in the Smithville Times between Aug. 2, 2001, and Jan. 3, 2002, defamed him. Cox Newspapers and Tyler sought both a traditional and a no-evidence summary judgment on all of Penick’s claims. The district court granted partial summary judgment in Cox Newspapers’ and Tyler’s favor on nine of the 13 disputed published items. Cox Newspapers and Tyler sought an interlocutory appeal of the district court’s order. Specifically, Cox Newspapers and Tyler claimed that no genuine issue of fact remained about the alleged defamatory nature of any of the four remaining published items, because: 1. the Oct. 18, 2001, editorial was not “of and concerning” Penick, 2. the Dec. 13, 2001, article, Jan. 3, 2002, article and the Dec. 20, 2001, letter to the editor were substantially true; and 3. none of these publications was published with actual malice. HOLDING:Reversed and rendered. To prevail in a defamation case, the court stated, a plaintiff who is a public official or figure must prove that the defendant published a false statement about the plaintiff that was defamatory while acting with actual malice. At the summary judgment stage, the court stated, the media defendant can negate that it acted with actual malice, as a matter of law, by proving that it did not publish the articles at issue with knowledge of falsity or a reckless disregard for the truth. Here, Cox Newspapers and Tyler supported their motions for summary judgment with affidavits from Tyler, the author of all of the articles in question, and from Metta Johnson, the managing editor of the Smithville Times at the time of the disputed publications. Tyler stated in her affidavit that she believed all the facts represented in her articles to be true at the time of publication and, with the exception of the few nonmaterial facts that Fisher corrected in his Dec. 20 letter to the editor, she still believes them to be true. Penick raised seven points that he believed support his assertion of actual malice: Cox Newspapers and Travis failed to tell the reader that Travis County was not investigating Fisher’s letter; printed dubious information from a biased source; hid from the reader the relationship between the Smithville Times and Fisher; omitted complimentary statements about Penick from a candidate’s campaign announcement published in the Smithville Times; predicted future publications and events; failed to talk to Penick, Tanner or other members of the prosecution team; and omitted and juxtaposed facts to create an overall false impression. In his seven arguments, the court held, Penick failed as a matter of law to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding actual malice. Thus, the court held that the district court erred by denying Cox Newspapers’ and Tyler’s summary judgment motion regarding the Oct. 18, Dec. 13 and 20, and Jan. 3 published items, because Penick failed to present a scintilla of evidence to demonstrate that any of these articles was published with actual malice. OPINION:Law, C.J.; Law, C.J., and Pemberton and Waldrop, J.J.

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