Anonymous Posters Named in Defamation Suit
IP address leads couple to ID people they say were behind defamatory comments.
Aug. 3, 2009— -- A Texas couple who filed a defamation lawsuit five months ago against anonymous posters on the Internet forum Topix say they have unmasked people behind some of the offending posts.
Following a trail of digital bread crumbs, Mark and Rhonda Lesher of Clarksville, Texas, say they have confirmed suspicions they've harbored since the day they began their legal crusade.
Information disclosed by Topix, including Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, or the unique number assigned to each computer, led the couple to a business owned by the husband of a woman who last year accused the couple of sexual assault.
The northeast Texas couple filed an amended petition in the District Court of Tarrant County Texas last week, naming six parties and demanding a trial by jury.
The amended petition names Shannon Coyel, the couple's accuser, her husband Gerald Coyel and his brother James Coyel.
It also includes the business Apache Truck & Van Parts in Kennedale, Texas, and two of its employees, Charlie and Pat Doescher. The Leshers allege the computers tied to the IP addresses were used by the Doeschers.
Although the petition says both Gerald and James Coyel own Apache Truck & Van Parts, Gerald Coyel told ABCNews.com that his brother has nothing to do with the business.
Gerald Coyel also confirmed that he had been served with the petition but said "it's totally fictitious."
He said the business has computers and "the public uses them all the time." But he emphasized that neither he nor the Doeschers made the posts. He also said that although he had read comments on Topix he had never posted comments himself.
"Not only do I know for positive that the people who run the business didn't do it, I don't believe that anyone did it," he said, adding that he lives about 200 miles away from the office in Negley, Texas, and only stops by the office about five times a year.
Coyel also said he doubted that the information disclosed by Topix and the Internet service providers really led to his business.
"I don't know how they tracked the IP address," he said. "This is going to help my business. This is going to help me get my name out there."
Last week, James Coyel told the Texarkana Gazette that he hasn't posted on Topix.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Coyel said. "I don't even know how to operate one of them computers."
A woman who identified herself as Pat Doescher declined to comment when asked about the petition by ABCNews.com.
But her husband, Charlie Doescher, told the Gazette last week that neither he nor his wife posted on Topix.
The Leshers, however, say they're very happy with the developments.
"We're just on cloud nine that we finally got some names," Rhonda Lesher said today.
Since filing the original lawsuit, the Leshers have believed that the Coyels and others tied to them were behind a storm of snarling commentary on Topix related to the sexual assault charges against them.
Now, the couple and their lawyer say they have the documentation to prove it. "This is beyond huge," she said. "It confirms exactly what we've always suspected."
Mark Lesher, 63, and his wife, Rhonda, 50, first made news in Texas when the couple, along with a man who works on their ranch, were accused of sexual assault by a woman in their small northeast Texas community.
Before the three were indicted on the charges, a steady stream of attacks on the Web forum Topix.com started to flow.
In January, a jury found the couple and their ranch hand not guilty on all charges.
Since reports of the rape allegations began to surface last year, more than 25,000 comments, on about 70 threads related to the trial, have been posted on Topix message boards for anyone with a search engine to see.
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