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Mormon Church Ordered To Pay $1 Million In Wrongful Death Suit

May 1, 1987

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) _ An attorney for the Mormon Church says he will seek tor reduce a $1 million jury award to the parents of a retarded child who was fatally beaten while in a church-supervised foster home.

A Superior Court jury Thursday awarded Victoria and Scott Richins $152,103 in medical and funeral expenses, $100,000 for the value of their 12-year-old daughter’s life and $750,000 in punitive damages.

Damages were assessed against the Mormon Church, its social service agency and three church officials. The corporate leadership of the church, also listed in the suit, was cleared of liability.

Church attorney Dan Bushnell said he will ask Superior Court Judge Carol Hunstein to drop punitive damages because the jury awarded no actual damages.

The Richinses’ attorney, Marc Davis, said, ″I think (the verdict) sent the message to the community that if you are going to do a job, do it right.″

Mrs. Richins cried after the verdict was announced. She, her husband and their four sons left the courthouse quickly.

The Richinses put Tiffany in foster care in 1979, after Mrs. Richins found it hard to care for the hyperactive, retarded girl. Tiffany died eight months after she was beaten in September 1980 by her foster father, Alan Weaver, who spent a year in jail after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

The Richinses had asked for $7 million. They contended the church violated its own policies in placing Tiffany with Weaver and his wife, Birdie.

Juror Deborah Tuff said the panel concluded evidence in the case showed that Latter-day Saints Services, the Mormon agency which put Tiffany in foster care, was negligent in failing to conduct a home study.

″When you’re dealing with children and dealing with lives there have to be guidelines,″ she said.

The three church leaders assessed were former Mormon Bishop Paul Evans; K. Dean Black, director of the local social service agency; and Doyle Kotter, the social worker who handled the case.

″I really don’t feel we did anything to cause the injury,″ said Kotter. ″I disagree that we were negligent, but I agree that everything was not as it was supposed to be.″

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