Fayette Co. woman sues Gazette for defamation

By Lawrence Smith | Apr 23, 2012

CHARLESTON – A Fayette County woman alleges an article featuring a Charleston funeral home director's service to the community has had the effect of defaming her.

The Daily Gazette Company, the parent company of The Charleston Gazette, is named as a defendant in a three-count lawsuit filed by Linda Bohanna. In her complaint filed April 17 in Kanawha Circuit Court, Bohanna alleges an article last year in The Gazette gave readers the impression she contributed to the deaths of her four children nearly 30 years ago.

According to the suit, The Gazette published an article in its April 18, 2011, edition titled "'I Want Family to Mean Something.'" The article featured Junora Walton, owner of the Walton and Breckenridge Chapel of Faith Funeral Home in Charleston.

In the article, Walton remembers less than a month after starting her career as a mortician she was presented with four children who died in a house fire. Walton told The Gazette, "Their mother had left them alone in the house with a space heater while she went out with friends to a club."

Though many in the community were hostile to the woman, Walton said she was forgiving.

"'Did I want to smack her around?'" Walton was quoted as saying. "'You bet I did.'

"'But I didn't. I told her, 'I'm not supposed to judge you.' And I was there for her. Compassionate.'"

Though never mentioned by name, Bohanna in her suit alleges the incident mentioned by Walton in the article refers to her four children who burned to death in September 1984. However, Bohanna avers that she "was home at the time of the fire, and she was badly burned in the course of trying to rescue her children."

The Gazette, Bohanna says, should've been aware of the facts as that was what it printed in one of its editions "at the time of the tragedy."

Now, in the Gazette's online archives, the story written by Kathryn Gregory includes this note:

"Correction: An earlier version of this story included a recollection provided by the subject -- Junora Walton -- of a fire that killed four children in 1984. According to a news clipping from the time, the recollection was misstated. The children's mother was home at the time of the fire, the past story states, and received burns in the blaze."

Along with defamation, Bohanna makes claims against the Daily Gazette Company for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and outrage. The libelous statements made in the April 18, 2011 article have subjected her to "hatred, contempt, ridicule and obloquy" which has caused her to suffer "impairment of her reputation and standing in the community, personal humiliation, mental anguish and emotional distress."

Bohanna seeks unspecified damages, attorney fees and court costs. She is represented by Kevin B. Burgess with the Fayetteville law firm of Hamilton, Burgess, Young and Pollard.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 12-C-670

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