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Newspaper Loses Libel Lawsuit

April 8, 1998

GALLATIN, Tenn. (AP) _ A jury awarded $800,000 to a former high school athlete and $150,000 to his coach in a libel lawsuit they filed against a newspaper that published a fabricated, sexually explicit quote about the athlete as a joke.

The jury on Wednesday decided that Garrett Dixon Jr. should receive $300,000 in punitive damages from The News Examiner and owner Gannett Co. Inc. for the story that wrongly quoted his coach.

A day earlier, the Sumner County jury awarded $500,000 in compensatory damages to Dixon and $150,000 to Rufus Lassiter, who was Dixon’s soccer coach at Gallatin High School and is now assistant principal at the school.

Lassiter did not win punitive damages from the paper, which is published three times a week in Gallatin _ about 25 miles north of Nashville.

The fake quote that appeared in the paper Feb. 21, 1997 had Lassiter making sexually explicit statements about Dixon, a senior at the time.

Reporter Nick DeLeonibus said he inserted it as a joke for the sports editor, Kris Freeman. But Freeman never saw the quote and it was published.

The newspaper printed a front-page apology in its next edition and also printed an apology by DeLeonibus, who was fired.

Dulin Kelly, Dixon’s lawyer, told the court The News Examiner was more concerned about ``profit over safety″ and refused ``to accept responsibility.″

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