There is an interesting case in Tennessee where a federal jury found that a lesbian couple faked a hate crime to describe their torching of their own home. Carol Ann and Laura Stutte however were never charged with arson or filing a false police report.
The alleged hate crime produced an outpouring of support for the couple.
American National Property and Casualty Company suspected a hoax even though the police did not reach the same conclusion when the couple implicated a neighbor. The company argued to the jury that the couple sprayed the word “queers” on the side of the garage as part of the ruse to collect more than $276,000. It also presented evidence that it said showed that the couple started the fire.
Notably, the couple named Janice Millsaps as a likely culprit in news reports but filed a lawsuit alleging that she threatened to kill them and burn their house down in Vonore, Tenn.. They said that Millsaps made a shocking statement one month before the fire: “Do you know what is better than one dead queer? Two dead queers.”
Millsaps however was never charged despite a probe by the FBI and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Yet, there was also no charge against the couple.
Clearly this ruling does not mean that the couple is in fact guilty. It shows rather that a jury did find evidence to support the company’s suspicions. It is also important to note that this was done under the lower evidentiary standard of a civil case, not the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. As shown in the OJ Simpson case and other cases, it is easier to establish such facts under a preponderance of the evidence. For example, the couple could argue that this is the result of bias against them due to their sexual orientation.
The question is now whether the police will reexamine the possible basis for a false police report or other crimes such as attempted insurance fraud. Fraud generally as a three year statute of limitation in Tennessee under Tenn. Code § 28-3-105(1) and (2). There is also the possibility of a defamation claim by Millsaps. However, the statute of limitations could prove a problem for such an action. In Tennessee, slander actions should be filed “within six (6) months after the words are uttered.” (See T.C.A. § 28-3-103). Likewise, a libel action should be filed within one year (See T.C.A. § 28-3-104(a)(1). There are ways to toll such statutes but it could be difficult in this case.