City Paper cleared of wrongdoing in libel lawsuit

The Maryland Court of Appeals has cleared Baltimore's City Paper and one of its reporters of any wrongdoing in a libel case stemming from two stories written about the execution-style double-slaying of two Baltimore nightclub employees.

Van Smith, a reporter for City Paper, wrote two articles that ran in 2006 and 2007 revisiting the April 16, 2003 fatal shooting of club promoters Jason M. Convertino, 31, and Sean M. Wisniewski, 22. The men, who had worked for Redwood Trust in downtown Baltimore, were found dead in a Fells Point apartment. A city jury acquitted Anthony Jerome Miller, 31, of the 4500 block of Runnymeade Road in Owings Mills, of first-degree murder charges but convicted him of second-degree murder. In June 2007, he was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

The lawsuit was brought by Nicholas A. Piscatelli, owner of Redwood Trust, after Smith's articles included allegations by Convertino's mother, Pam Morgan, that Piscatelli may have been involved in her son's murder. The articles also hinted that the double murder remains "mysterious," despite Miller's conviction, according to court documents.

In Smith's articles "Late Discovery," published on Dec. 6, 2006, and "The Lonely Killer," published on June 20, 2007, Piscatelli "perceived that his reputation had been injured thereby and he had been portrayed in a false light," according to court documents.

But the Maryland Court of Appeals' said Piscatelli failed to present evidence that Smith's reporting was unfair and inaccurate. Furthermore, the court said since the opinions in the articles were "based on disclosed, privileged statements, those opinions are themselves privileged as fair comment."

When reached for comment by e-mail, Smith deferred all comments to his editor Lee Gardner, publisher Jennifer Marsh, or attorney Peter Axelrad.

'We're happy with the Court of Appeals' decision and are looking forward to putting this behind us and getting on with our work," Gardner wrote in an e-mail response on behalf of the publication.

Piscatelli could not be immediately reached for comment. 

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