Message #237:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: For The Rest Of His Life, A Grave Robber
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 1997 21:47:43 -0700

[ A rogue by any other name would smell as sweet ? -- SASIG Ed. ]

June 13, 1997 -- Reno man asks state Supreme Court to clear way for libel
suit  CARSON CITY (AP) - A Reno man who sued several newspapers in 1994 for
identifying him as a robber of Indian burial sites has asked the Nevada
Supreme Court to let him try the case in front of a jury.  Attorneys
representing the newspapers, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the
Reno Gazette-Journal, argued the articles about James M. Mortensen are true
and that the lower court was correct in dismissing the case. A Washoe
County district court found in 1995 that the characterization of Mortensen
as a looter was true, and that none of the newspapers referred to Mortensen
as "one who deals in human remains," as alleged in the complaint. Mortensen
filed the defamation lawsuit after the newspapers reported his 1992
conviction on a charge of selling Indian artifacts taken from federal land
in Washoe County.  His attorney, Kevin Mirch, told the Supreme Court in an
oral argument Thursday that the newspapers didn't accurately report the
results of the case against Mortensen. Mirch mentioned several newspaper
articles with headlines that identified Mortensen as a robber of an Indian
burial site. "He took bits of straw from baskets," Mirch said. "He didn't
take human remains. "These articles are harmful," he said. "They're not
fair to Mr. Mortensen. He is now, for the rest of his life, a grave
robber." But Justice Bob Rose questioned whether the articles were false.
The press isn't limited to the precise wording used by the federal court
regarding the guilty plea to illegally selling Indian artifacts, he said.
"If it's truth in fact, I think the papers can say that," Rose said.
Attorney Kevin Doty, representing the Review-Journal, said the newspapers
are protected from the defamation action because the information for the
stories was taken almost verbatim from federal agency news releases. If a
fair report was made from the news release, newspapers are protected by a
"fair report privilege" he said. Beyond that protection, Doty said the news
release identified the looting site as an Indian burial ground, making such
statements in the newspapers true. Attorney James Hardesty, representing
the Reno Gazette-Journal, asked the court to use the Mortensen case to
establish in Nevada law the "libel-proof plaintiff doctrine," which says
that criminal defendants can't sue based on damage to their reputations
caused by their own criminal actions. The Mortensen case fits the doctrine
perfectly, he said. Mortensen was arrested after he sold the artifacts to
undercover agents with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management beginning in
1989. Mortensen eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of
illegal selling of archaeological resources. He was placed on probation,
fined and ordered to perform community service. The Supreme Court will rule
later on the case.