Thirteen Million Dollars

A Tarrant County jury awarded Mark and Rhonda Lesher of Clarksville, Texas, the sum on Friday after the couple filed a lawsuit against people writing anonymous, hurtful comments about them online.


One of the defendants, Shannon Coyel, had accused the Leshers of sexually assaulting her in 2008. The Leshers were indicted, went to trial, and were acquitted.

Anonymous commenters called the Leshers sexual deviants, molesters and drug pushers on After filing suit against John and Jane Does (original petition (PDF)) the Leshers successfully sought and received the IP addresses of the commenters. (Murray’s commenters, take note: you’re not as anonymous as you think.) 70 percent of the postings on Topix came from only a narrow number of IP addresses and—surprise, surprise—one of them came back to a Fort Worth salvage yard owned by the Coyels.

The Leshers’ acquittal by itself didn’t establish that the anonymous comments were false; that issue was likely relitigated in the defamation trial, and they showed by a preponderance of the evidence that the comments were false.

Thirteen million is a big number. To me, it seems about right for putting a couple (a criminal-defense lawyer and his wife, no less) through the nightmare of a false accusation leading to indictment and trial for sexual-assault charges.

But the Coyels’ (the original petition renders it “Coyle”) liability for the underlying false charges hasn’t been determined yet: their malicious prosecution trial is set in August.

3 responses to “Thirteen Million Dollars”

  1. Those who make disparaging comments on Murray’s site should begin their posts with a disclaimer that states the comment is only their opinion. If I’m not mistaken this absolves them of all liability should someone take issue and try to litigate.

  2. Its a fine line to walk. I generally try to look out for anonymous commenters who are posting things that are to be taken fact.

    The judgment today is certainly sobering. I will be interested to see what happens once it is appealed.

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