BOULDER -- When the Boulder Daily Camera filed suit 15 months ago against an ex-reporter claiming she stole $15,000 worth of documents related to the JonBenet Ramsey case, the newspaper needlessly attacked a young, sick and broke reporter, said attorney William Meyer.
After deliberating four hours Thursday afternoon, a jury of six agreed and awarded the paper's former lead Ramsey reporter $105,000 in damages -- $45,000 of which was awarded due to the paper's ``willful and wanton conduct.''
A Boulder County District Court jury of five women and one man found the Camera defamed 24-year-old Allison Krupski in four articles from December 1997 and January 1998, acted with extreme and outrageous conduct toward her, damaging Krupski's professional reputation and emotional well-being.
Krupski, visibly elated while leaving the courtroom, declined to comment. Expecting an appeal, Meyer, her attorney, would say only he was pleased with the jury's decision.
``I'm very happy the jury found Alli had been badly damaged by this,'' he said.
Jurors also declined to comment on their decision, saying only that the message to the media was to ``be fair.'' An alternate for the jury who was allowed to go home while the others deliberated said jury members found the Camera's treatment of Krupski repugnant.
``I'm canceling my subscription,'' she said.
The Camera filed suit against Krupski in January 1998, alleging she stole documents related to the Ramsey murder case from the newspaper's office Dec. 10 when she leared off her desk and left her job. The paper claimed the documents belonged to it, and a judge in an earlier hearing ruled Krupski had to either return the original files or give the paper copies.
Things may have ended there, but Krupski countersued, claiming the paper's legal action and its reporting on it amounted to defamation. She sought unspecified monetary damages, and the cases were combined.
On Monday, District Court Judge Morris Sandstead threw out the Camera's theft charge, leaving the jury to decide only Krupski's claims against the paper.
In her testimony, Krupski said the pressure of being the Camera's lead Ramsey began gnawing away at her within days of the 6-year-old beauty queen turning up dead in her Boulder home on Dec. 26, 1996.
``There was so much evilness surrounding this case -- it destroyed me,'' Krupski said.
After covering the case for much of the year, Krupski had surgery for possibly cancerous ovarian cysts. While she was out on medical leave in December 1997, the paper determined Krupski had abandoned her position and asked her by letter to come in, clear off her desk and surrender her job. She did, and the paper's suit soon followed.
In his closing arguments Wednesday, Meyer told jurors that the Camera sued Krupski and covered the allegations as a way to damage her reputation and to keep her from being hired by a competing newspaper to cover the Ramsey case.
``The entire theft issue was a set up from day one,'' Meyer said. He noted that the Camera never took an inventory what documents the paper still had after Krupski left, but only sought to recover what she left with. ``They didn't care what they had. They just didn't want Alli to have it,'' he said.
The Camera's attorney, Laurin Quiat, told the jury there was no conspiracy to ruin Krupski.
The case came down to whether the paper had a right to file a suit and report on it -- rights guaranteed in the Constitution, he said. Krupski's suit would stifle free speech, he added.
``Really what they're asking you to do is become a speech czar,'' Quiat told the jury. ``We got rid of that when we threw the British out.''
After the verdict came back against her paper, Daily Camera Executive Editor and Publisher Colleen Conant said she was troubled at what the defamation element of the ruling may mean for the media.
``This is a dark day for journalists,'' she said, adding that she didn't understand how Sandstead reached some of his rulings that influenced the outcome.