True-crime writer Ann Rule sues Seattle paper

Article questioned facts in Rule's tale about a killing

SEATTLE — True-crime author Ann Rule is suing a weekly Seattle newspaper, saying she was defamed in 2011 when the fiance of a convicted killer wrote a lengthy article accusing her of "sloppy storytelling."

The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court last week, is the latest twist in a long-running feud precipitated by Rule's book about Liysa Northon, an Oregon woman who served 12 years in prison after killing her husband in 2000.

Northon argued she was a battered spouse and said she shot her husband, pilot Chris Northon, during a camping trip in Eastern Oregon to protect herself and her children. But Rule's book "Heart Full of Lies" laid out a different theory: that Liysa Northon had long planned the killing and faked evidence of abuse to cover up her real motive, collecting insurance money and other benefits.

Liysa Northon pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was released from prison last fall. She sued Rule for defamation — a case that was dismissed by a federal judge in 2007, with Liysa Northon and her father ultimately being ordered to pay more than $60,000 for Rule's legal fees after an unsuccessful appeal.

In 2011, the Seattle Weekly ran an article about the Chris Northon case by Rick Swart, a freelance writer who previously served as the editor and publisher of a small Oregon newspaper, the Wallowa County Chieftain.

The article accused Rule of making numerous mistakes in her book and ignoring important facts beneficial to Liysa Northon's case.

The Seattle Weekly's then-editor, Caleb Hannan, has said he didn't learn until after the article was published that Swart and Northon were engaged. The couple got married in prison later that year.

In a lengthy editor's note days after the piece ran, Hannan explained the omission and said he had uncovered several minor mistakes in Swart's reporting.

Rule argues in her lawsuit that the damage had been done because to sell her books, she relies on her reputation for accuracy and attention to detail.

"The article contained innumerable inaccuracies and untruths concerning the testimony and evidence in the trial of Liysa Northon and also included various unfounded personal attacks on Rule," her lawyer, Anne Bremner, wrote in the complaint. "At the time ... Swart and Northon were engaged, and any meaningful inquiry by Seattle Weekly or Hannan should have discovered this significant source of bias."

Hannan, Swart and the Seattle Weekly, all of whom are named as defendants, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

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