Deposition set for ‘Natural Born Killers’ director

Friday, July 23, 1999

Lawyers for Oliver Stone agreed yesterday that the film director will answer detailed questions about his film “Natural Born Killers” in connection with a lawsuit charging that the movie triggered a violent shooting spree across Mississippi and Louisiana.

Stone's attorneys agreed to bring the filmmaker to Louisiana for a deposition around the end of the year, said Joe Simpson, an attorney in Amite, La.

Simpson represents the family of Patsy Byers, who was left paralyzed after a shooting incident in a Ponchatoula, La., convenience store four years ago. Byers died of cancer in 1997. The family is suing Stone and Time Warner, which distributed “Natural Born Killers,” claiming that the film was intended to cause violence.

Simpson said he met with lawyers representing Stone and Time Warner for more than three hours yesterday at his office. Simpson said the lawyers agreed that Stone would provide his deposition in the case after both sides complete discovery.

“There will be a good bit of discovery in this matter,” Simpson said. “It may include boxes and boxes of material because it will include some of the movie cuts and many of the comments made during the production of the film.

“I don't think their attorneys know — and I certainly don't know — what we're getting into,” he said. “There's a lot of material to digest before Stone is ever called into deposition.”

But Simpson says Stone's deposition likely won't happen before the end of this year or early next year. He says the attorneys haven't made any agreements about what questions will be allowed during the deposition.

Alton Lewis, a Hammond, La., attorney representing Stone, did not return calls.

The Byers family is seeking damages from Stone and Time Warner because Sarah Edmondson of Muskogee, Okla., said that she and Benjamin Darras of Tahlequah, Okla., watched “Natural Born Killers” several times before going on a shooting spree. The two killed a businessman in Mississippi before shooting Byers in Ponchatoula.

In the case before state District Judge Bob Morrison, the plaintiffs must prove that Stone and Time Warner intended to incite viewers to commit those types of crimes.

But defense attorneys claim that any damages would infringe on the filmmakers' First Amendment rights to free speech.

In January 1997, another state judge dismissed the suit partly on free-speech grounds. But a Louisiana appeals court in May 1998 determined that the film fell within the incitement to violence exception to free speech. The Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the ruling in October 1998.

Last March, the U.S. Supreme Court declined the defense's request to hear an appeal of the Louisiana high court's ruling.

“We're for the First Amendment, too,” Simpson said. “But we would shut up if they would only pay us the money. But I don't think they want to set a precedent.”