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True-crime author sues Eagle Creek resident

True crime author Ann Rule has named Eagle Creek resident Rick Swart in a defamation lawsuit against Seattle Weekly newspaper.

Rule filed the lawsuit in King County Superior Court last week.

Swart is married to the subject of Rule’s New York Times best-selling book, “Heart Full of Lies.”

The book follows Liysa Northon, an Oregon woman who shot her Hawaiian Airlines pilot husband Chris Northon in the head while he was either asleep or unconscious during a camping trip in Eastern Oregon in 2000.

She claimed the shooting was an act of self-defense to protect herself and her children from a violent husband who abused drugs and alcohol.

Liysa Northon pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. She said later that her lawyer pressured her into pleading guilty to the charge as part of a plea bargain.

Northon later filed complaints against her former attorney but they were dismissed by the Oregon State Bar Association in 2009.

Rule’s book portrays Northon as a calculating, cold-blooded killer rather than a battered wife.

A federal judge dismissed a defamation suit filed by Northon against Rule in 2007.

Fast-forward to July 20, 2011. Seattle Weekly published an article titled “How Seattle’s self-proclaimed queen of true crime turned a battered wife into a killer sociopath” by Swart, a former editor of the Wallowa County Chieftain.

Seattle Weekly featured a caricature sketch of Rule on its cover with the headline “Ann Rule’s Sloppy Storytelling.”

The piece claimed Rule’s book was less than factual and that she ignored crucial facts in Northon’s case.

It was only after the article was published that Seattle Weekly’s then-editor Caleb Hannan learned that Swart and Northon were engaged. Hannan is also a defendant in Rule’s 2013 defamation lawsuit.

Swart had followed Northon’s trial as the editor of the Wallowa County Chieftan.

He eventually realized that he had met Northon back when she was 17-year-old Liysa DeWitt at Wallowa Lake.

He had been taken with her, but they didn’t meet again until years later.

In December 2010, Swart requested an interview with Northon. She was still serving her sentence at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville.

Northon was released from prison in October 2012, and moved in with Swart at a home he recently purchased in Eagle Creek.

Rule sued Seattle Weekly for running Swart’s free-lance article with the undisclosed conflict of interest of his engagement to Northon.

Swart claimed in an op-ed titled, “Why I fell on the sword for Liysa Northon” that journalists and publications that covered Northon, her trial and Rule’s book had largely and irresponsibly neglected to get Northon’s side of the story, so he decided to take the task upon himself.

But upon learning that he was her fiancé, publications refused to publish his article.

“In the beginning I told several editors that I had fallen in love with Liysa and therefore had taken extra care to make sure every statement could be independently documented,” Swart wrote in the piece. “No one would publish it, nor were they willing to do an independent investigation on their own.”

Swart defended his article published in Seattle Weekly as factual and “the right thing to do.”

“I hurt no one. What I did at great personal sacrifice was expose the truth,” he wrote in “Why I fell on the sword for Liysa Northon.” “It would have been far easier to sit back and not do anything, like everyone else.”

Rule’s lawsuit seeks “reasonable damages” for harm done to her reputation.

As a crime writer, Rule claims her ability to sell books depends on her reputation for accuracy.

“Ann has worked very hard. She has 30 million books in print. She’s a New York Times best-seller many times over. She’s considered by many to be the pre-eminent true crime writer,” said Anne Bremner, Rule’s lawyer. “It’s her life’s work and what her career rests on is her reputation for truth and accuracy. It’s a well-deserved reputation.”

Bremner said the case is important not just in terms of Rule’s reputation, but journalistic integrity.

“It was false and defamatory, and that’s why (Rule is) taking action,” she said in reference to Swart’s Seattle Weekly article.

Swart declined to comment on the lawsuit.