Jury clears Lane County publisher in libel suit.
WALTERVILLE - A South Carolina jury decided this week that a small Lane County publisher owes no damages in a $700,000 libel lawsuit against it that was backed by a fraternal organization for current and former U.S. military special operatives.
The U.S. District Court jury ruled Monday that seven retired Green Berets failed to prove that they had been defamed by Kris Millegan's Trine Day Press of Walterville and author Daniel Marvin. The civil suit, backed by the Special Forces Association, centered on the book "Expendable Elite: One Soldier's Journey Into Covert Warfare" by Marvin, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces lieutenant colonel. He also had been named in the lawsuit.
Each of the plaintiffs sought $100,000 in damages over the book, which said the men illegally fired into neutral Cambodia in 1966 and nearly committed mutiny during the Vietnam War.
The jury of four men and four women also ruled against damages sought by Marvin in a countersuit over the plaintiffs' statements that his book was "100 percent lies."
After returning from the Charleston, S.C., trial, Millegan said he and Marvin considered the verdict a victory.
"Neither Trine Day or Col. Marvin were found guilty of libel," Millegan said. "Our defense was truth."
Millegan said the jury returned its unanimous verdict in about two hours.
Marvin said the verdict vindicated his story that Americans were fighting in Cambodia early in the war, that the Green Berets were poised to help assassinate Cambodian Prince Norodum Sihanouk, and were ready to fire on friendly forces rather than surrender a base and put a tribe of allied Vietnamese natives into jeopardy.
"I'm glad to see the victory of truth over evil," Marvin said through tears Monday as he spoke to a reporter for the Charleston Post and Courier.
But David Collins, attorney for the seven plaintiffs, said Marvin's claims remain in doubt because the jury didn't rule whether his book was true, only on whether the seven ex-Green Berets were defamed. Collins said the men may appeal the verdict.
Marvin retired from the Army in 1973 and said he broke his promised silence on covert operations after his conscience bothered him following his conversion to Christianity in 1984. He said his 2003 book detailed how covert operations are "masked to permit, even sponsor, assassination, outright purposeful killing of innocents, illegal use of force and bizarre methods in combat operations."
Millegan said he and Marvin spent more than $50,000 in legal fees to fight the libel charges. If the plaintiffs had won, he said, the damages would have bankrupted his small press, which has published just eight books and sold a total of 40,000 copies since its creation four years ago.
Schuyler Kropf of the Charleston Post and Courier contributed to this report.