Oliver Stone and Natural Born Killers timeline
Oliver Stone's film "Natural Born Killers" is responsible for certain "copycat" crimes since its release in 1994. That's the allegation of some Louisiana attorneys who have filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit naming Stone, Time Warner Entertainment and others as defendants on behalf of Patsy Byers. Byers was shot by two young adults who embarked on a cross-country crime spree in 1995 after watching "Natural Born Killers" several times. An increasing number of lawsuits are charging that violence in the media is responsible for violence in our society, particularly in crimes committed by young people. These lawsuits have far-reaching First Amendment implications for the motion picture industry in particular and for the media in general.
"Natural Born Killers" is released in the United States. The plot revolves around a young couple who become celebrities as they go on a killing spree across the country.
On March 5, Sarah Edmondson and Ben Darras, both 18 at the time, spend the evening together in a cabin in Oklahoma, taking LSD and watching the movie "Natural Born Killers" over and over again. Early the following morning they leave together in Edmondson's Nissan Maxima with a .38-caliber revolver. On March 7, the two arrive at a cotton mill in Hernando, Miss., where Darras kills William Savage, shooting him twice in the head. They then travel to a convenience store in Ponchatoula, La., where Edmondson shoots Patsy Byers, the store cashier. Although Byers survives the shooting, it leaves her a paraplegic until her death of cancer in 1997. She is survived by her husband, Lonnie Byers, and their three children.
Byers files suit (Patsy Ann Byers, et al. v. Sarah Edmondson, et al.) on July 26 in the Louisiana state court against Edmondson and Darras for damages Byers and her family sustained as a result of the shooting.
Byers amends her lawsuit adding Time Warner Entertainment, Oliver Stone and others associated with the making and distribution of the film as defendants. The amended petition alleges that the Hollywood defendants "knew or should have known that the film would cause and inspire people … to commit crimes such as the shooting of Patsy Ann Byers."
On Jan. 23, the trial court dismisses the lawsuit against Stone and the production companies, finding that "the law simply does not recognize a cause of action such as that present in Byers' petition." Byers appeals that decision.
While Stone and Time Warner contend that the case against them should be barred because their film is protected by the First Amendment guarantee of free speech, plaintiffs argue that "Natural Born Killers" falls within the incitement exception to the First Amendment protection of free speech. The exception states that when speech advocates the use of imminent force or unlawful action, and is likely to produce such conduct, the state may indeed forbid such speech. The appeals court determines on May 15 that plaintiffs' allegations that Stone intended for his movie to incite people to commit violent crimes (thereby falling within the incitement exception to the First Amendment) do state a valid cause of action and the parties should be allowed to go to trial.
On October 9 the Louisiana Supreme Court declines to review the Court of Appeal's decision.
On March 8 the U.S. Supreme Court also denies the defendants' request to hear an appeal.
On July 22 after meeting for several hours with plaintiff's and Time Warner's attorneys, Stone's attorneys agree that the director will answer questions in a deposition once discovery is completed by both sides. This will likely not take place before the end of the year due to the amount of discovery required in a case like this one.
In order to win at trial, plaintiffs must prove that Stone and the production companies actually intended to incite viewers to commit crimes of the type committed against Byers. The court recognizes that the kind of proof of intent necessary to hold defendants liable in cases such as this one is difficult to establish. Also, First Amendment rights could yet be raised by the defendants at a later stage of the case after discovery has taken place.
On March 12, Louisiana judge Robert Morrison dismissed the wrongful death lawsuit against Oliver Stone and Time Warner. In a ruling from the bench, Judge Morrison found that the plaintiffs had not discovered any evidence that Stone or the film distributor Warner Bros. intended to incite violence. The judge also rejected plaintiffs' arguments that the movie was obscene and not protected by the First Amendment.
Other copycat crimes:
While the Byers case has received the greatest notoriety, some argue that the film has prompted other crimes including:
In 1994 a 14-year-old Texas boy is accused of decapitating a 13-year-old girl. Police report that the boy told them he "wanted to be famous like the natural born killers."
In 1995 after watching the movie 19 times, four people in their twenties from Georgia are accused of killing a truck driver.
A 1995 Massachusetts killing makes national headlines when one of the accused reportedly boasts to a girlfriend that he and his co-defendants are "natural born killers."
A 14-year-old boy is accused of killing three students in a Paducah, Ky. high school in 1997. Attorneys for the parents of the victims blame the media, filing a lawsuit in April 1999 against Internet pornography providers, motion picture studios and computer game manufacturers.