NEW YORK — Former Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon lost his $50-million libel suit against Time Inc. today when a federal jury found that the magazine acted without malice in falsely linking him to a 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees.
Sharon had won two victories earlier in the deliberations when the jury decided that a crucial paragraph in a Time story had defamed him and that it was false. Since the jury found no malice, Sharon lost his overall case and has no chance to collect damages.
In returning its verdict, the jury issued a statement saying Time editors and writers involved with the contested story acted "negligently and carelessly." But the jury found that no one deliberately reported false information.
Sharon sat grimly with his arms folded as the verdict was read, his face stony. His wife, Lili, seemed crestfallen.
Sees Lesson for Time
Outside the courtroom, Sharon said he was happy with the verdict and hoped that his victories would be a lesson for Time magazine to get its facts straight.
"Time's allegations were false," he said. "It is very important for men and women around the world. We hope it will prevent Time magazine from libeling in the future."
He said he was going back to Israel, where, he said, "I have plenty of things to do." Sharon was forced to resign as defense minister after an Israeli inquiry found that he bore "indirect responsibility" for the massacre. He is now minister of industry and commerce.
Exhilarated Time executives congratulated each other outside the courtroom.
"This libel suit is over and Time has won it," a Time spokesman said in a statement. "The case should never have reached an American courtroom. It was brought by a foreign politician attempting to recoup his political fortunes."
The verdict by the six-member jury brought to an end the two-month trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. The jury had been deliberating on the complex case for 11 days and had focused on the malice issue since last Friday.
In a back corridor of the courthouse, weary jurors, bundled up in coats and scarfs, packed into an elevator. One juror comforted another, saying, "You did what you had to do."
In its statement, the jury found fault with several Time editors and writers and singled out David Halevy, Time's Jerusalem correspondent, for sloppy reporting. But it said Halevy did not deliberately report false information about Sharon.
Under U.S. libel law, a public figure such as Sharon must prove not only that a published statement defamed him and was false but also that it was published with malice--meaning that Time knew its information was false or seriously doubted its accuracy.
No 'Conscious Intent'
The paragraph in Time's Feb. 21, 1983, cover story reported that Sharon had "discussed" with Lebanon's Christian Falangist leaders the need to avenge the death of Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel on the eve of the 1982 massacre of an estimated 700 Palestinians at two refugee camps in Beirut.
The jury found that the paragraph defamed Sharon because it implied that Sharon had "consciously intended" Israel's Falangist allies to carry out the atrocity. That contention, the jury found in its second verdict, was false.
Halevy, who reported the disputed account to his editors, testified that it was based on information from his confidential Israeli sources.
In today's final verdict, the jury apparently indicated that it believed that Halevy did have confidential sources and reported in good faith what they told him.
Sharon has a parallel suit against Time pending in Israel.