Hawaii publications didn’t libel murder suspect

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

HONOLULU — Hawaii’s Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled June 30 that Honolulu Magazine and The Garden Island newspaper did not libel a convicted rapist named as a suspect in a series of attacks in 2000.

Waldorf Roy Wilson II was on parole for 1983 rape and kidnapping convictions when three women were raped, beaten and stabbed on Kauai between April and August 2000. Two of the victims died, but no one was ever charged in the attacks.

Honolulu Magazine and The Garden Island both covered the police investigation into the attacks. In his libel suit, Wilson focused on a sentence in the magazine story that “Honolulu’s News 8 identified Wilson as the suspected killer, a report quickly denounced by police but widely accepted as fact on the Garden Island.”

A three-judge panel of the appeals court held that the sentence was a statement of opinion by the reporter and did not imply that Wilson was in fact the serial killer.

“The plain meaning of the article is that Wilson was considered a suspect in the attacks, a circumstance that Wilson readily concedes,” Judge Craig Nakamura wrote for the panel.

The Garden Island did not name Wilson, but described a 42-year-old man previously convicted of rape who fit the general description of the suspect.

The appeals court found that the issue was of legitimate public concern, and Wilson did not satisfy his burden of proof that the articles were false.

“Accurately identifying someone as a suspect in a criminal investigation does not constitute an accusation of guilt and cannot support a claim for defamation, even if the plaintiff proves he is not guilty,” Nakamura wrote.

The court also ruled against Wilson on claims that the publications invaded his privacy and inflicted emotional distress.

Wilson completed the requirements of his rape and kidnapping sentence in 2007.

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