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Judge Goes Along With Jury on Damages for Woman Pictured In Tabloid

February 23, 1992

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ A judge followed a jury’s recommendation and ordered a supermarket tabloid to pay $1.5 million to a 96-year-old woman it falsely identified as a pregnant 101-year-old newspaper carrier.

In December, a U.S. District Court jury in Harrison found that the Sun invaded the privacy of Nellie Mitchell and committed actual malice.

Mrs. Mitchell had sought $1 million in a libel lawsuit against the Sun, of Boca Raton, Fla., and its parent company, Canada-based Globe Communications Corp.

U.S. District Judge H. Franklin Waters followed a jury’s recommendation Friday, awarding $650,000 in compensatory damages and $850,000 in punitive damages.

A Sun editor said during the trial he selected Mrs. Mitchell’s picture to accompany a made-up article in a 1990 edition because he assumed she was dead. The article said a 101-year-old Australian newspaper carrier had to quit her route because she had become pregnant by a millionaire customer.

The photograph originally appeared in 1980 in another Globe Communications publication, The Examiner, which ran an article on a newspaper route Mrs. Mitchell ran until she was 90.

Sandy S. McMath, Mrs. Mitchell’s attorney, called the award a blow for responsible journalism.

″Trash for cash journalism threatens the democracy of ideas because it destroys the credibility of the most reliable medium of information,″ McMath said Saturday.

The Sun and its parent company have 10 days to pay the award or appeal the decision to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

A woman who answered the telephone Saturday at Sun offices in Florida said no one was available to comment. A woman who answered the telephone Saturday at Mrs. Mitchell’s residence in the northern Arkansas community of Mountain Home said she wasn’t home.

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