updated 1/20/2005 10:04:49 PM ET 2005-01-21T03:04:49

A libel case began Thursday against the Boston Herald, which a judge claims falsely reported that he said of a 14-year-old rape victim, “Tell her to get over it.”

Remarks attributed to Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy in a series of 2002 articles drew national attention, as well as hate mail and threats against him and his family.

Murphy is suing the Herald and four of its reporters, claiming he’s been emotionally scarred and that his reputation was damaged. The newspaper’s lawyer said in court that it conducted a thorough investigation and stands by its articles.

The Herald reported that Murphy had been criticized by prosecutors for what they thought were lenient sentences, including eight years’ probation for a 17-year-old convicted of two rapes and an armed robbery.

The paper quoted Murphy as saying to lawyers about the victim: “Tell her to get over it.” The judge contends he never said that and that his private conversation with a prosecutor the day after the sentencing was taken out of context.

“Judge Murphy spoke about the 14-year-old rape victim with compassion, inquiring with counsel whether there was psychological counseling resources available to her,” Howard M. Cooper, Murphy’s lawyer, said during opening statements Thursday.

Judge receives hate mail, death threats
After the articles were published, Murphy was bombarded with hate mail, death threats and calls for his removal from the bench. In a Boston Herald Internet chat room, someone suggested that Murphy’s own teenage daughters should be raped.

Two of Murphy’s daughters were so frightened, they went to live with relatives and friends. He bought a .357-caliber Magnum, he says in court documents.

The Herald insists the story was accurate and is standing by David Wedge, the lead reporter on the story.

“He had reliable sources. Mr. Wedge had absolutely no doubt about the truth,” Herald lawyer M. Robert Dushman said in his opening statement.

Dushman said Wedge’s sources, including the prosecutor who had the private conversation with Murphy about the sentence, will testify that the tone of Murphy’s comment was callous and insensitive. He said, however, that they would not testify to the exact wording of the comment.

Dushman outlined to the jury several examples of rulings by Murphy that he contends show he is lenient with violent defendants. Murphy allowed several men accused of rape to go free without bail before trial, Dushman said.

The case before a 12-person jury is scheduled to resume Monday.

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