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Jury awards $58 million libel judgment

WACO, Texas -- A jury awarded a former county prosecutor a $58 million libel judgment against a broadcasting company and a television news reporter.

The focus of the lawsuit was an 11-part series of reports broadcast on WFAA-TV in Dallas in 1985. Charles Duncan Jr. reported on alleged kickbacks to McLennan County District Attorney Vic Feazell's office given in hopes of receiving preferred treatment of drunken driving cases.

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In Dallas, Belo Broadcasting Corp. released a statement saying it would fight the district court verdict Friday.

'The company believes there is no factual basis to support this jury verdict, which involved a public official. We will obviously pursue all post trial motions and if necessary appeal,' said Michael J. McCarthy, general counsel and senior vice president.

Feazell and Duncan, who no longer works for the station, were not immediately available for comment.

Feazell's lawyer, Gary Richardson of Tulsa, had argued there was a link between the broadcasts, the investigation of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas by his client, and a federal probe of Feazell.

'Vic Feazell was the victim of a smear campaign by Channel 8 and Charles Duncan unlike any ever seen before in this country,' he said.

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Richardson said when Feazell began a grand jury probe into Lucas' admission of hundreds of murders across the country, federal and state law enforcement officials decided to discredit the Waco prosecutor.

They were angered that Feazell questioned Lucas' claims, which had provided solutions to hundreds of unsolved murder cases, he said.

Lucas's claim to 600 murders nationwide was eventually debunked.

Richardson said federal and Texas Department of Public Safety officers then lied to secure a racketeering indictment against Feazell in 1987, a charge his client later defeated in Austin federal court.

John McElhaney, the lawyer for Duncan and the television station, called the plaintiff's allegations 'a shaggy dog story' and said Feazell brought most of his troubles on himself.

The Dallas television station was not a police tool, McElhaney said. 'It's not like we're part of a conspiracy to get Vic Feazell because Henry Lee Lucas was going to be exposed,' he said.

In actual damages, the jury awarded $2 million for harm to his business, $9 million for impairment of reputation and standing in the community and $6 million for personal humiliation and mental suffering. He was also awarded $1 million from Duncan and $40 million from Belo in exemplary damages.

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