You think it takes a long, long time for a death sentence to be carried out? Try suing the MSM for libel and collecting.

Richard Jewell, the part-time security guard who discovered a lethal bomb at Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and helped hundreds of spectators flee from harm’s way minutes before it detonated, died from diabetes-related complications at the age of 44 on Wednesday. He leaves behind his wife, Dana, his mother, Bobbie – and a libel and defamation suit against the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that has been pending for 10 years.

The case was finally scheduled to go to trial in Fulton County State Court five months from now. Georgia law permits substitution for a deceased party in civil cases, so the suit does not die with Jewell.

An AJC article based on unnamed sources fingered Jewell as a suspect three days after the bombing. The newspaper shared it’s reporting with CNN.

Following three months of repeated searches of Jewell’s home – and his mother’s home as well – then-U.S. Attorney Kent B. Alexander announced that Jewell was no longer a federal target in the bombing investigation. Nine years later, domestic terrorist Eric Robert Rudolph pleaded guilty to the bombing.

At issue in Jewell’s case against the AJC is whether the paper had an obligation to independently verify the truth and accuracy of information provided by anonymous sources close to the investigation before publishing it. Various U.S. Supreme Court libel rulings support Jewell’s position.

Here is what the AJC has to say for itself:

The Journal-Constitution … has contended that at the time it published its reports Jewell was a suspect, so the articles were accurate. The newspaper also has asserted that it was not reckless or malicious in its reports regarding Jewell.

Much of Jewell’s case was dismissed last year. One claim, based on reports about a 911 call, is pending trial.

However, Jewell’s death Wednesday “is not a day to consider lawsuits, rather a day to pay respect,” said John Mellott, AJC publisher.

“Richard Jewell was a hero, as we all came to learn,” Mellott said. “The story of how Mr. Jewell moved from a suspect in the Centennial Park bombing to recognition as a security guard who averted a greater tragedy is one The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported fully even as it defended itself in a libel suit brought by him.”

Jewell’s attorney L. Lin Wood Jr. had already settled a slew of separate defamation suits with NBC, CNN, radio stations WKLS-FM 96 Rock in Atlanta and WABC-AM in New York, the New York Post and Time Magazine.

Ironically, defendant Kathy Scruggs, an AJC reporter who co-wrote the first articles to name Jewell as the focus of the FBI’s investigation died in 2001.

You know it’s time to speed up the wheels of justice when defendants and plaintiffs die before litigation is resolved.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog.

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