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Thursday, July 25, 2013 - Page updated at 06:30 a.m.

Author Ann Rule sues, claims Seattle Weekly defamed her

By Lewis Kamb
Seattle Times staff reporter

True-crime writer Ann Rule has sued the Seattle Weekly, claiming the alternative newspaper defamed her in 2011 when it published an article penned by a convicted killer’s fiancé that slammed the best-selling author for “sloppy storytelling.”

Rule’s lawsuit, filed last week in King County Superior Court, claims the Weekly’s article, written by freelance writer Rick Swart about Rule’s 2003 book “Heart Full of Lies,” “contains numerous false statements concerning the content of the book and Rule’s researching and interviewing techniques.”

Titled “Ann Rule’s Sloppy Storytelling,” the Weekly’s cover story also contained “other inflammatory comments, including ‘evil,’ ‘sociopath,’ ‘bunch of lies’ and ‘straight out slander,’ ” Rule’s July 18 complaint alleges.

“The hallmark of Ann’s career has been honest, detailed writing,” Rule’s Seattle attorney, Anne Bremner, said Tuesday. “This article was so blatantly defamatory and false, there couldn’t be anything more damaging to Ann than something like this.”

Seattle Weekly Editor-in-Chief Mark Baumgarten declined to comment. Gloria Fletcher, president of Sound Publishing, said in a statement: “The article in question was published prior to our ownership. At the time Seattle Weekly was owned by New Times Media. Sound Publishing has not been served with any complaint.”

Swart did not immediately return a phone message on Tuesday.

Unbeknown to The Weekly at the time of the article’s July 20, 2011, publication, Swart — the former editor and publisher of the Wallowa County Chieftain in northeast Oregon — was engaged to Liysa Northon, an Oregon woman who had stood trial for killing her husband during an October 2000 camping trip.

Northon, who claimed she was a battered spouse who killed her husband to protect herself and her children, ultimately pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2001 and served more than 11 years in prison. But Rule’s best-selling book about Northon’s case, “Heart Full of Lies,” depicted the slaying as a premeditated crime carried out by a sociopath out to collect insurance money.

Northon later sued Rule for defamation, but a federal judge tossed out the case in 2007 and ordered Northon to pay more than $60,000 for Rule’s legal fees after an unsuccessful appeal.

Swart’s 2011 cover story in the Seattle Weekly claimed Rule’s book was rife with errors and ignored important facts about the case.

Two days after the Weekly published the article, Caleb Hannan, the editor at the time, wrote a lengthy editor’s note explaining the newspaper wasn’t aware Swart and Northon were engaged; the couple later married in prison about two months after the article was published. The Weekly also later wrote a list of corrections for the story.

Bremner said Tuesday the newspaper’s actions haven’t gone far enough.

“It’s appreciated, but it doesn’t suffice,” she said. “That headline’s still out there — it’s all over the Web. You can still find this article on (the Weekly’s) site. It just doesn’t go so far as to say it was false.”

A former Seattle police officer, Rule has written 33 books during a career that dates to 1969 and has spawned more than 20 million copies in print. First published in 1980, Rule’s breakthrough-book, “The Stranger Beside Me,” chronicled the serial killings of Ted Bundy, whom Rule had worked with at a Seattle crisis clinic.

Rule’s lawsuit, which individually names the Weekly, Hannan and Swart, doesn’t specify monetary damages.

“What Ann wants more than anything is for people to know that article is false and that she’s the real deal,” Bremner said.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Lewis Kamb: 206-652-6611 or lkamb@seattletimes.com


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