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Los Angeles Jury Finds No Defamation In Elon Musk's 'Pedo Guy' Tweet

Tesla CEO Elon Musk (center) arrives at U.S. District Court in Los Angeles this week.
Mark J. Terrill
Tesla CEO Elon Musk (center) arrives at U.S. District Court in Los Angeles this week.

A federal jury in Los Angeles Friday found that Elon Musk did not defame a British cave explorer when he called him a "pedo guy" in a tweet last year.

The explorer, Vernon Unsworth, 63, had participated in the dramatic rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach who had been trapped in a Thailand cave. Afterwards, Unsworth dismissed a plan by Tesla chief executive Musk to rescue the boys using a miniature submarine as a "PR stunt." Musk responded calling Unsworth a "pedo guy."

Unsworth said the term was meant to label him as a pedophile and filed a lawsuit seeking $190 million dollars in damages. The jury of five women and three men deliberated for less than an hour before deciding that Musk had not defamed Unsworth.

During the trial, Musk insisted that his remarks were off-the-cuff and that "no one interpreted it to mean pedophile." Yet in a follow-up to his initial tweet, he wrote another message that read, "Bet ya a signed dollar it's true." Musk later apologized and deleted the tweets.

Musk also testified that his tweet was provoked by Unsworth who had said of the Tesla CEO's rescue plan "he can stick his submarine where it hurts."

The Thai boys and their soccer coach were rescued by divers who put wetsuits and oxygen tanks on them and escorted them out.

Unsworth's lawsuit also alleged that a Musk employee hired a private investigator to look into the cave explorer's background and that Musk himself encouraged at least one reporter to find evidence that Unsworth was a child rapist.

But ultimately Unsworth's lawyers failed to convince the jury that Musk had defamed their client.

Jury foreman Joshua Jones said Unsworth's team spent too much time on emotional aspects of the case and not enough on the hard evidence.

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Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.
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