A jury found that the Rev. Al Sharpton and two legal advisers to a black teen-ager defamed a white former prosecutor when they accused him of abducting and raping the girl.
The jury's next task is to put a price tag on the verdict.
The penalty phase of Steven Pagones' defamation lawsuit was scheduled to begin Tuesday as he seeks financial compensation from Sharpton, C. Vernon Mason, and Alton Maddox. Pagones planned to tell the jury about the damage the trio inflicted on his life.
|The three defendants|
The jury on Monday said the trio defamed Pagones by claiming he took part in the 1987 abduction and rape of Tawana Brawley, who was then 15. The verdict followed an almost eight-month trial that revived racial tensions that engulfed the case a decade ago and subjected Pagones to a fresh round of accusations.
But a relieved-looking Pagones said Monday the verdict will help put the case to rest. Although he was seeking $395 million, the jury found he had been defamed in only 10 of the 22 statements he sued over.
"I want accountability, I want responsibility. What Mason and Maddox and Sharpton did hurt a lot of people," Pagones said outside court. "I'm hoping the jury comes back tomorrow and helps me gain some accountability from them."
His wife, Niki Pagones, had a mixed reaction to the verdict. She told reporters, "We won...but it's been a long 10 years."
The jury found Sharpton liable for making seven defamatory statements about Pagones, Maddox for making two, and Mason for one. The jury deadlocked on four of the 22 statements in Pagones' lawsuit and determined the advisers were not liable for the rest. Jurors found that the advisers acted with reckless disregard for the truth in many of the statements.
Sharpton and Maddox, who strode out of court with his arms raised in victory, said they would appeal; Mason could not be reached for comment. Sharpton insisted that the decision would not change his civil rights activities.
"I've survived stabbings, indictments, lawsuits," he told WLIB radio in New York City just after the verdict. "If they want to stop me, they need to shoot me, and even then there will be hundreds who will come behind me and stand up."
During the trial, defense lawyers hurled charges of racism, shouting matches broke out in the courtroom, and the judge once walked off the bench in disgust.
The defendants did not call Brawley to the stand.
The case began in 1987, when Brawley was found in a garbage bag with dog feces meared on her body and racial epithets scrawled on her. She claimed a gang of white law enforcement officers had abducted and raped her.
Her lawyers mounted a racially charged campaign accusing Pagones of being part of the alleged attack and cover-up. Those public accusations became evidence in this eight-month trial. Most of the allegations were made on radio and TV talk shows in 1988.
A special state grand jury found substantial evidence that her story was a hoax. The grand jury specifically exonerated Pagones.
Pagones sued the three advisers and Brawley, too. Her refusal to answer repeated subpoenas led to a 1991 default judgment against her in Pagones' favor.