A California jury today cleared Tesla co-founder Elon Musk’s billionaire of responsibility for a defamation suit brought against him by a British speleologist whom he had refered to as a paedophile on several occasions.
In a unanimous decision, the jury of five women and three men thus agreed with Musk and put an end to a week of trial and several months of public disputes between the media inventor and the speleologist Vernon Unsworth, who claimed 190 million dollars in compensation for considering that his name had been defamed.
Musk’s defense was based on the fact that the adjective “pedophile” was a “response to a prior gratuitous insult” by Unsworth, that it was used in the context of a verbal dispute between two people, and that its character was therefore merely “rhetorical” and should not be interpreted as a fact or accusation.
Coming out of the Los Angeles courts where the trial was taking place, Musk claimed to have “regained faith in humanity” with the verdict.
The dispute between Unsworth and Musk dates back to July 2018, when the former was involved in the rescue of 12 children trapped in a cave in Thailand and, after a visit to the site, the latter offered a minisubmarine of his creation to assist in the efforts.
In an interview with CNN, Unsworth called Musk’s offer “a mere public relations exercise,” which could not work “in any way,” and told him to stick the submarine “wherever it fits”.
The billionaire responded angrily on Twitter and in e-mails sent to the media, in which he accused Unsworth of being a pedophile and not having participated in the rescue effort without presenting any evidence.
“I thought he was just some strange guy. At the time I thought he had nothing to do with the rescue,” Musk defended himself on that episode at this week’s trial.
On June 23rd 2018, 12 Thai children between the ages of 11 and 16 and their 26-year-old guardian entered a cavern after a football training session when a sudden storm flooded the way out.
The group was trapped in the cave for two weeks, during which a large rescue device was deployed and media from around the globe gave almost daily coverage of what was happening.
Finally, the 12 children and the guardian were rescued alive, but during the rescue exercises a 38-year-old diver died.
Musk has been involved in several polemics over the past few months because of his behavior, including the Twitter posting that he intended to get Tesla out of the bag and appearing smoking marijuana in a radio interview.