The state Court of Appeals on Monday reversed a Hennepin County judge's order granting a new defamation trial for a man who sued KARE-11 and the St. Cloud Times for their reporting on his arrest in 2012 in connection with the slaying of Cold Spring police officer Thomas Decker.
In November 2016, a jury ruled that the two news organizations had defamed Ryan Larson by describing him as the accused killer. But jurors also found the reporting was accurate and awarded no damages.
However, Judge Susan N. Burke ruled in June that eight media statements presented to the jurors were both defamatory and false under the law and should be considered as such as part of a retrial.
The three-judge appeals panel has now stepped in and ruled that Burke erred when she concluded that the two news media outlets were negligent for reporting false information from police that Larson was responsible for the killing.
"We're disappointed with the ruling and think the court misapplied ... the law," said Larson's attorney, Steve Fiebiger. "We plan to petition for review by the Minnesota Supreme Court within 30 days."
Decker was shot Nov. 29, 2012, in a dark alley behind Winners Sports Bar as he responded to a welfare check on Larson, who lived above the bar. Larson was jailed and then released after a few days without being charged.
More than a month later, 31-year-old Eric J. Thomes, who was a regular at the bar, was named as a person of interest after the shotgun used to kill Decker was found on property Thomes had accessed.
A day after Decker's death, Thomes failed to appear in court on a drunken-driving charge and a judge ordered his arrest. Thomes killed himself when police arrived to question him. The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Stearns County Sheriff's Office confirmed that Thomes would have been arrested for Decker's murder.