Dixie Chicks Singer Sued for Defamation

Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines is the target of a defamation lawsuit by the stepfather of one of three 8-year-old boys slain in 1993.

Maines spoke out for three people convicted of the slayings and alleged the stepfather was instead involved in the killings.

Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Steve Branch, who was killed in 1993 with Christopher Byers and Michael Moore, filed suit in Pulaski County Circuit Court on Nov. 25. The suit names all three members of the Dixie Chicks, but focuses on Maines.

The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Hobbs claims he suffered loss of income, injury to his reputation and emotional distress.

Maines attended a Dec. 19 rally in Little Rock, where she claimed Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley — known to sympathizers as the "West Memphis Three" — were innocent and that supposed new evidence pointed to Hobbs. Her comments echoed a Nov. 26, 2007, letter that was still on the Dixie Chicks' Web site on Thursday, in which she claimed that new DNA testing of hair from the crime scene linked Hobbs to the killings and that his behavior after the slayings indicated his guilt.

The lawsuit says the claim is false.

Hobbs told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in a Feb. 1 interview that his reputation was in tatters and he wanted to clear his name.

"I want people to know I haven't done nothing wrong," Hobbs said. "I want them to hear it from me."

No lawyer for Maines was listed in court filings and a publicist didn't immediately return a call for comment. Hobbs' attorney, J. Cody Hiland, didn't immediately return a call for comment Thursday.

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

Assertions similar to those made by Maines were also made by lawyers seeking new trials for the three convicts.

The boys' bodies were found by police a day after they vanished from their quiet, tree-lined neighborhood May 5, 1993. Police arrested the three after a confession by Misskelley in which he described how he watched Baldwin and Echols sexually assault and beat two of the boys as he ran down another trying to escape. A jury gave Misskelley a life-plus-40-year sentence for the killings. A later jury gave Baldwin a life sentence without parole. Echols, then 19, the oldest of the three, received the death penalty.

The Arkansas Supreme Court later upheld the convictions, but a later documentary sparked interest across the Internet, as well as among celebrities, including Maines, who felt the teens were railroaded by police for their interest in heavy metal music and the occult. Supporters say they raised more than $1 million for a legal defense fund for the three, enough to pay for lawyers, new DNA testing and a second federal appeal on behalf of Echols.

A judge has since denied defense motions for a new trial.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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