Psychic to pay $7 million for false mass grave claim

By Kristen Butler, UPI.com   |   June 14, 2013 at 10:53 AM   |   Comments

June 14 (UPI) -- Self-described psychic Presley "Rhonda" Gridley, 50, triggered a worldwide media firestorm when she told authorities Texas couple Joe Bankston and Gena Charlton had a mass grave on their property. Now, a Dallas County judge has ordered her to pay $6.8 million to the homeowners.

In 2011, Gridley reported to the Liberty County Sheriff's Office that the couple's property contained a mass grave with 25 to 30 dismembered bodies, some of which were children.

The sheriff's office repeated the claims to news media organizations and provided the plaintiff's address.

The couple filed suit in 2012, claiming the false statement injured their reputation and exposed them to public hatred, contempt, ridicule and financial injury, according to the complaint.

"Over the course of the day, media defendants began to exaggerate and eventually make up facts about Plaintiffs, including that a mass grave existed on the property, including the bodies of children," the suit states.

Going by the name 'Angel' at the time, Gridley told the media she had had "visions" all her life and was just concerned for the children she believed were buried on the property.

Locals were outraged that authorities were acting on tips from psychics.

When initially filed, the suit's defendants included Liberty County and six media outlets, which over time were dismissed.

Gridley failed to appear in court May 7 for the bench trial before Judge Carl Ginsberg, who found that she had made defamatory statements, and awarded $3 million in damages to Bankson and $3,849,000 to Charlton, plus 5 percent interest from the date of the incident in 2011.

"Whether it will be collectible, we're going to pursue that," said the couple's attorney, Andrew Sommerman.

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