Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Natural Born Killers

Suing Oliver Stone

In March 1996, Byers and her attorneys dropped a bombshell. They filed a lawsuit in 21st Judicial District Court in Tangipahoa Parish against Natural Born Killers director and co-writer Oliver Stone. Also named were thirteen other defendants, including the movie's production company — Warner Brothers — and other Time Warner subsidiaries, as well as independent production companies responsible for producing and distributing the film. Also named as defendants were Sarah, Ben, Suzanne and Jim and their insurance carrier, as well as the movie's underwriters.

Exempted from the lawsuit was one of the screenplay's co-authors: Quentin Tarantino. According to reports, Tarantino was so disenchanted with the cuts and changes made to the final draft that he disavowed any role in the movie's creation. He asked that his name be removed from the credits but it wasn't done.

The Byers family attorneys now included Ron Macaluso of Hammond and Rick Caballero of Baton Rouge. The Edmondsons and their insurers were named in the suit because they left a loaded gun in the cabin where Ben and Sarah shacked up while dropping acid and watching Natural Born Killers. But it was obvious that the real targets were Stone, Warner Brothers, and others involved in the making and distributing of the movie.

The lawsuit, again for an unspecified monetary amount, sought to recover "past, present, and future" income, medical expenses, loss of enjoyment of life, mental and physical pain and suffering, and future disability and scarring."

Immediately, the media and the Hollywood film community rallied to Stone's defense. Claiming the freedom of speech protections offered under the First Amendment, they maintained that, should the lawsuit be successful, it would stifle artistic creativity and result in excessive censorship.  Stone and his co-defendants found powerful allies in all four television networks, the Recording Industry of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, and other media industry heavyweights. The Writers Guild of America and the American Library Association also joined in support of Stone and the others.

Meanwhile, in January of 1996, Sarah was reporting to Mississippi authorities that when she shot Byers she saw "a demon. A woman was working (there). As I looked at her I did not see her. I saw the demon, I shot it, she fell and I ran out of the store and got in (the car). I was crying and screaming, 'I just killed him!'" Not surprisingly, one of the undercurrents of Natural Born Killers was that Mickey and Mallory were also supposedly tormented by demons when they went on their murderous rampage.

Of course, the authorities were not buying her explanation of the shooting, but her confession was their key to indicting Ben in Savage's murder.

Sarah also told the authorities that Ben threatened to kill her if she did not take "her turn," according to a report in the January 26 issue of the Times-Picayune. Apparently he meant that, since he had done the first killing, she had to kill someone  also. Ben kept reminding her, "We're partners," she reported, and he felt no remorse about killing Savage.

Sarah also claimed that she was turned off by Ben's repeated demands that she kill someone. She said she considered killing herself instead, but didn't, and went along with his demand when she shot Patsy Byers.

In the meantime, the defendants tried unsuccessfully to obtain a change for venue, owing to the widespread publicity the case was getting in Louisiana.

 

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