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Jury rejects hate crime claim by Vonore couple in house fire lawsuit

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Jury rejects hate crime claim by Vonore couple in house fire lawsuit

A federal jury in a lawsuit has concluded a Monroe County lesbian couple's claim their house was torched in an act of hate was a hoax.

A jury in U.S. District Court on Monday returned a verdict in favor of American National Property and Casualty Company in a lawsuit over the fire claim of Carol Ann Stutte and Laura Jean Stutte.

In the verdict, the jury specifically concluded the insurer had proved by what's known as a preponderance of the evidence standard that the Stuttes torched their house in Vonore, Tenn., and covered it up by spray-painting the word "queers" on a detached garage and labeling the fire a hate crime by their neighbor.

The Stuttes' house was destroyed by a blaze in September 2010. The couple at the time blamed neighbor Janice Millsaps in media interviews and a lawsuit filed against Millsaps in Monroe County Chancery Court.

In that lawsuit, the Stuttes alleged Millsaps "repeatedly threatened the lives of the Stuttes" and "specifically and repeatedly threatened to burn the Stuttes' house."

The Stuttes claimed in the lawsuit that Millsaps, a month before the fire, said to them: "Do you know what is better than one dead #######? Two dead queers."

Millsaps denied any role in the fire and has not been charged despite extensive probes by the FBI, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and local arson investigators, according to Millsaps' attorney, Lewis Kinnard.

The Missouri-based insurer refused to pay the Stuttes' fire claim and concluded after its own probe, which included a polygraph examination that Millsaps passed, the Stuttes were not fire victims but fire bugs.

The jury heard five days of testimony before Senior U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan's before returning its verdict.

The jury also rejected the Stuttes' counterclaim against their insurer in which the couple claimed American National was simply trying to escape paying their claim.

The Stuttes have not been charged in the house arson. The status of their lawsuit against Millsaps was not immediately clear. An attorney with the Washington law firm that represented the Stuttes did not immediately return a phone message Tuesday.

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/watchful-eye/jury-rejects-hate-crime-claim-by-vonore-couple-in-house-fire-lawsuit_11706002


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Vonore sounds like a place 'not for the lesbians'. ho hum...


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