Searile takes plea after two days of court proceedings
A judge trial was set to commence in Judge Gary Ortego’s courtroom on Monday in a matter where a Ville Platte man was charged with defamation following Facebook posts that prosecutors called “malicious publications.”
Rufus Searile, who was first charged with cyberstalking for his posts, was arrested in this matter in June of 2016 after the victim in the case reported that the 49-year-old man had posted inappropriate photos of her on the social media.
On Monday, August 13th, the afternoon was spent with the court hearing motions, as well as a preliminary hearing to determine whether probable cause was present at the time of the defendant’s arrest.
On Tuesday, court convened at 2:00 p.m. for the trial and started with the state, being represented by Evangeline Parish Assistant District Attorneys Chris Ludeau and Nicholas Monier, and then the defendant’s council, attorney Justin Bo West, presenting their opening arguments to the court.
In the state’s opening, Ludeau explained the elements of the crime of defamation, which the state would have the burden of proving to the court to show that the defendant was guilty of the crime of defamation.
“Defamation is the malicious publication to anyone other than the party defamed,” said Ludeau. “To that is the first element that needs to be proven.”
Ludeau then continued, “The second element that needs to be proven is anything that intends to expose any person to hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or intending to injure a person.”
The assistant district attorney then explained that when a “non privileged defamatory publication is false, it is presumed to be malicious.”
The state’s burden in that instance, according to Ludeau, “is to prove that any publication he made about the alleged victim was false, then malice is already presumed.”
Ludeau then went on to share specifics of the Facebook posts from the defendant, which he believed would prove that Searile’s actions prove each element of the crime of defamation was met.
“The state intends to prove that the post that Mr. Searile posted about the victim being at the Sunset Motel and having a sexual relationship with a preacher is false,” said Ludeau. “Because in fact the witnesses and testimony will show that the alleged victim was in Texas that entire weekend. Accordingly, that post is false and in accordance with Revised Statute 14 Subsection 48, it is presumed to be malicious.”
The A.D.A. then went on to say, “Further proof of malice, the state intends to show that Mr. Searile did not rest after that post. He continued to attack the alleged victim through subsequent posts wherein he discusses any suggestive pictures that the victim has taken in the past and by posting them on Facebook, he insinuates that she is of ill morale character.”
When West, who represented the defendant, presented his opening to the court, he stated, “Mr. Searile maintains that his actions around May 25, 2016 to June 2, 2016 do not constitute the crime of defamation.”
West then proceeded to also break down the elements of the crime of defamation and shared why the defense argues that the defendants actions do not prove that the crime of defamation was committed.
The defense attorney said, “We submit and intend to prove at trial that the defendant did not mention the victim’s name in any of his posts until May 30, 2016, and it was only after she (the victim) posted a personal conversation between Mr. Searile and herself did he post anything identifying the victim on May 30, 2016.”
West went on further to say that “the defense maintains that the post wasn’t malicious because the post was not false and Mr. Searile did not believe any information to be false, and he did not identify the victim. Anything he posted, he believed to be true and anything thereafter. Therefore, the presumption of malice does not apply in this case.”
At the closing of opening arguments, the court took a short recess. When all parties returned to continue the trial, the state revealed that it, along with the defendant and its council had reached a plea agreement.
Immediately, Searile stood before Judge Ortego and entered a plea of guilty to one count of disturbing the peace.
He was sentenced to serve six months in the parish jail, six months of which were suspended, and one year of active supervised probation. The defendant was also ordered to pay a $150 fine, $97.50 for court costs, $150 to the Indegent Defender Board, $150 to the prosecution, $50 witness fee and $7.50 to the victim fund.
As a part of his plea, Searile was also ordered to turn over any photos he has of the victim to the District Attorney’s Office, to stay away from the victim and to have no social media for the time he is on probation, or for one year.