When Kacie Breen shot her husband March 1 at their home near Folsom, the case immediately became the focus of intense scrutiny from law enforcement, the media, attorneys and online commenters.
The latter group — many of whom banded together in their support for the slain Dr. Wayne Breen — flocked to Facebook pages with titles like Justice4DrBreen and R.I.P. Dr. Wayne E. Breen, MD, In Loving Memory.
Those pages have been filled with breathless speculation about the investigation and, frequently, invective directed at Kacie Breen, who claimed she shot her husband in self-defense while he was in a violent rage.
Now, those commenters could find themselves in the legal crosshairs. Kacie Breen’s attorney on Wednesday filed a defamation suit against 13 of them in 22nd Judicial District Court.
The suit accuses the commenters, some of whom appear to use their real names and others who use aliases such as “blonde4u” and “WeAresinkingfast,” of making knowingly false statements and calling Kacie Breen names like “cold blooded murderer,” “gold digger,” “drug addict” and “demon.”
Those statements have caused her “shame, humiliation, discomfort, loss of reputation, public ridicule, loss of income and mental anguish,” the suit says.
Kacie Breen’s lawyer, Richard Ducote, attached screen shots of dozens of the comments to the petition he filed with the court.
The commenters don’t view Breen’s death in shades of gray.
“This is a pathetically desperate evil woman who clearly will stop at nothing to get away with murder,” one comment, from Jeanie Mcandrew Holmes, reads.
“Kacie magee (sic) is a murderer and a lieing drug adict. This isn’t about money, this is about her killing dr breen,” another one, from user Mandevillenative, reads.
Kimberly Jo Graham wrote, “This murderer needs her orange jumpsuit to go with that pathetic ugly face.”
Contacted by phone, Graham laughed when asked if her comment was authentic.
“I was being vindictive,” she said, adding that she thought she had removed the comment.
“Ain’t it a free country and I have a right to say that?” she asked.
Under the law, there are two kinds of defamation. The relevant one in this case is what is known as defamation per se, in which the plaintiff does not need to prove actual damages. Comments that qualify as defamation per se are presumed to have caused damage by their very nature.
One category of defamation per se is to falsely accuse someone of a crime.
“When you have somebody accused of being a murderer and all the other terrible things that have been written about her,” Ducote said, “the situation has gotten out of control.”
Ducote said he expects to be able to find out who the anonymous commenters are either by asking Facebook or nola.com for the information or else getting their names from the other commenters.
In July, Sheriff Jack Strain announced that he wouldn’t arrest Breen, who has never denied that she shot her husband. The case was passed to District Attorney Warren Montgomery, who is reviewing it.
Breen’s five children from his first marriage have sued Kacie Breen for wrongful death, and the doctor’s estate is stalled in court awaiting the outcome of that case.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.