The Baltimore Sun
Saturday June 5, 1993
Magician defamed scientist, jury rules
By Norris West
A federal jury ruled yesterday that "The Amazing Randi," a magician,
defamed a Finksburg scientist by calling him a child molester but
the panel did not award any monetary damages.
The jury in U.S. District Court in Baltimore found that Eldon Byrd,
53, the scientist, suffered humiliation, mental anguish, suffering
damage to his reputation because of the false statements. But the
panel found that he was not entitled to any monetary damages after
hearing testimony that he had sexually molested -- and later
married -- his sister-in-law.
Jurors deliberated over three days before they reached a verdict
in the case that featured a plaintiff who dabbles in the supernatural,
a defendant who debunks paranormal claims, and testimony on the mud-
slinging battle between them that prompted the suit.
Mr. Byrd, 53, had sued James Randi, the magician, for libel, slander
and invasion of privacy. Mr. Randi, 64, once a specialist, in Houdini-
type illusions, has made a second career of discrediting those who
claim to have supernatural powers.
Jurors cleared the other defendant in the case, the Committee for the
Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, which Mr. Randi
helped to establish.
The case centered on false statements by Mr. Randi, who claimed
Mr. Byrd a child molester in a 1988 speech that the plaintiff was
known by police in the Washington, D.C., area as the "shopping
The magicians lawyer defended his statements by saying that Mr. Byrd
was a child molester who was never convicted of that crime. The
scientist's lawyer sought to discredit Mr. Randi by playing taped
conversations of teen-age boys who called the magicians home
allegedly for sex.
"I have been trying to figure out why Mr. Byrd brought this case,"
Diane M. Lank, the magicians lawyer, told jurors in closing
arguments. "I've finally figured out that Mr. Byrd is willing to
get down into the mud provided he can drag Mr. Randi down with him."
Jurors in the courtroom of Judge Marvin J. Garbis listened to intimate
details of the lives of Mr. Byrd and Mr. Randi and those of a woman
who said she was sexually abused by Mr. Byrd over a 13-year period
beginning at age 12.
Ms. Lank introduced evidence showing that Mr. Byrd collected
pornographic magazines of girls ages 9 to 16 years.
Mr. Byrd was arrested in 1986 in Fairfax County, Va., for child
pornography and later plead guilty to a misdemeanor pornography
charge. He never was charged or convicted of child molestation,
but he was fired from his job as a physical scientist with the
Navy as a result of the pornography conviction.
Richard W. Winelander, Mr. Byrd's lawyer, argued that his client
was damaged by the false statement. He said the magician knew the
facts of Mr. Byrd's case after talking to a U.S. postal inspector.
Nancy L. Harrison, a defense lawyer for the scientific organization,
said Mr. Byrd's reputation had already been tarnished at the time
the false statement was made.