Jury Awards Father Nearly $11 Million in Funeral Protesters Case
The father of a fallen Marine was awarded nearly $11 million Wednesday in damages by a jury that found leaders of a fundamentalist church had invaded the family's privacy and inflicted emotional distress when they picketed the Marine's funeral.
The jury first awarded $2.9 million in compensatory damages. It returned later in the afternoon with its decision to award $6 million in punitive damages for invasion of privacy and $2 million for causing emotional distress to the Marine's father, Albert Snyder of York, Pa.
Snyder sued the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church for unspecified monetary damages after members staged a demonstration at the March 2006 funeral of his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq.
The defense said it planned to appeal and one of the church's leaders, Shirley Phelps-Roper, said the members would continue their pickets of military funerals.
Church members believe that U.S. deaths in the war in Iraq are punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.
Before the jury began deliberating the size of punitive damages, U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett noted the size of the compensatory award "far exceeds the net worth of the defendants," according to financial statements filed with the court.
Snyder sobbed when he heard the first verdict, while members of the church greeted the news with tightlipped smiles.
Church members routinely picket funerals of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, carrying signs such as "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God hates fags."
A number of states have passed laws regarding funeral protests, and Congress has passed a law prohibiting such protests at federal cemeteries, but the Maryland lawsuit is believed to be the first filed by the family of a fallen serviceman.