Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sweet, Sweet Justice

Father of slain Marine wins case against funeral protesters
Pa. man awarded nearly $11 million in compensatory and punitive damages
By Matthew Dolan Sun reporter

The brokenhearted father of a Marine killed in Iraq won a long-shot legal fight today after a federal jury in Baltimore awarded him nearly $11 million in a verdict against members of a Kansas church who hoisted anti-gay placards at his son's Westminster funeral.The jury's announcement 24 hours after deliberations first began was met with tears and hugs from the family and supporters of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, whose March 2006 funeral was protested by members of the Westboro Baptist Church with signs including "Thank God for dead soldiers."Snyder's father, Albert, won on every count of his complaint, as well as $2.9 million for compensatory damages and $8 million for punitive damages.

Over the past week, the civil trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore turned into a constitutional debate over how far the First Amendment should extend to protect the most extreme forms of expression. The groundbreaking verdict is believed to be the first time the fundamental Christian church from Topeka that is composed mainly of family members has been successfully sued for its shock funeral protests.One legal expert worried that the initial size of the compensatory judgment, which was awarded first, could be a setback for those who believe in broad free-speech protections."The award -- $2.9 million -- is an awful lot of money for compensatory damages," University of Maryland law professor Mark Graber said today. "This was in a public space. While the actions are reprehensible, the First Amendment protects a lot that's reprehensible."U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett, who had sealed the church's financial documents, said from the bench that the compensatory damage award would already eclipse Westboro's assets.

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