HARDIN, TX – Two years ago we reported on the couple who had police and media descend on their home after an anonymous caller told police said they had a mass grave on their property. That claim turned out to be false and the anonymous caller, self-described psychic Presley “Rhonda” Gridley, has been ordered to pay the couple $6.8 million.
A Dallas County judge issued the judgment against Gridley after the couple, Joe Bankston and Gena Charlton, filed a lawsuit against her one year after Gridley called the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office and falsely claimed that 25 to 30 dismembered bodies were buried in a mass grave at the plaintiffs’ residence. “Whether it will be collectible, we’re going to pursue that,” said Dallas attorney Andrew Sommerman.
Judge Carl Ginsberg found that Gridley made defamatory statements about Bankson and Charlton when she volunteered false information to the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, claiming that a mass grave containing dismembered bodies was at their home. He agreed that the false statement injured the plaintiffs’ reputation and exposed them to public hatred, contempt, ridicule and financial injury.
The judge awarded $3 million in damages to Bankson and $3,849,000 to Charlton, plus 5 percent interest from the date of the occurrence in June 2011.
For those of you who do not remember this, the sheriff’s office repeated Gridley’s false statements to various news media organizations and even provided the plaintiff’s address. This resulted in law enforcement and the media descending on the property. According to the lawsuit, “media defendants began to exaggerate and eventually make up facts about Plaintiffs, including that a mass grave existed on the property, including the bodies of children.”
Some media outlets even reported that children were buried on the property and that bodies had been recovered. The lawsuit originally included Liberty County and six media outlets, but they were all dismissed.
In case some of you don’t read the original story, or the comments, police and the media did not swarm the property after getting the call from the psychic. After the psychic called, they sent officers to the property to investigate. When officers arrived, no one was home but they saw blood on the front porch of the home. Hell broke loose after they requested a search warrant.
The blood turned out to be from the ex-boyfriend of Bankston’s teen daughter, who tried to commit suicide a couple weeks prior. As to why they were targeted in the first place, Bankston told reporters his son was a convicted sex offender, but hadn’t lived in Hardin for over a year. During an interview with the Houston Chronicle a few days after making the phone call, Presley said she called police after she and two friends had visions of three children in trouble.