Dixie Chicks Sued For Defamation

The Dixie Chicks were hit with a defamation lawsuit Nov. 25, filed by the stepfather of one of three 8-year-old boys murdered in West Memphis, Tenn., in 1993.

The lawsuit names all three Dixie Chicks but focuses on singer Natalie Maines, who spoke out in support of the three young men convicted in the murders and alleged that the stepfather was instead connected to the slayings.

Photo: AP Photo
During their "Good Morning America" performance in New York City’s Bryant Park.

In the suit, Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Steve Branch, who was killed along with Christopher Byers and Michael Moore, says he suffered loss of income and injury to his reputation, as well as emotional, mental and physical injuries. Hobbs is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

“While all Americans have the right of free speech, that right does not extend to falsely accusing someone of a triple homicide,” Hobbs’ attorney said in a Dec. 4 statement. “Terry Hobbs had absolutely nothing to do with these murders. His one and only association with this tragedy was that of a devastated father.”

The three children vanished May 5, 1993, and police found their bodies a day later.

Police arrested Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley – who became known as the “West Memphis Three” – after Misskelley said he watched Baldwin and Echols sexually assault and beat two of the boys as he ran after the third child trying to escape.

Misskelley was sentenced to a life-plus-40-year sentence for the killings, Baldwin was given a life sentence without parole and Echols, then 19, the oldest of the three, received the death penalty.

The Arkansas Supreme Court later upheld the convictions.

There was renewed interest in the case online after the release of later documentaries “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Lost 2” about The Memphis Three. Maines and others believed the teenagers were wrongly convicted partially because of their interest in heavy metal music and the occult.

Supporters say more than $1 million was raised for a legal defense fund for the teenagers to cover lawyers’ fees, new DNA testing and a second federal appeal on behalf of Echols.

Maines published a letter Nov. 26, 2007, which is still available on the Dixie Chicks’ Web site and MySpace profile, in which she claimed that new DNA testing of hair from the crime scene proved Hobbs was linked to the murders.

Maines claimed that Hobbs’ activities on the night of the crimes – including washing his clothes and sheets at odd hours – also indicated his guilty.

The singer attended a rally in Little Rock where she spoke out in defense of the teenagers and recorded a PSA, which can be viewed on YouTube, in support of reopening the case.

The lawsuit says Maines’ statements were false and “so extreme in degree as to be beyond the pale of decency and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society.”

A judge has denied defense motions for a new trial, in which defense lawyers said new evidence included Hobbs’ DNA.

Echols has an appeal pending, with a hearing to continue in January.