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Wal-Mart Cleared in Parking Lot Murder Case

LAS VEGAS ( Courtroom View Network) After fiery closing arguments in the Smith v. Walmart trial, a jury found Wackenhut, but not Wal-Mart (WMT - Get Report), liable for inadequate security in a store parking lot where a customer was murdered. The jury awarded over $1M in damages.

Michael Born was murdered in a Wal-Mart parking lot while replacing his car's headlight. The plaintiffs claimed that Wal-Mart knew the store was located in a high-crime area, and that police were repeatedly called to the site. However, neither Wal-Mart nor its hired security service, Wackenhut, took adequate measures to protect Wal-Mart customers.

Plaintiff attorney Mont Tanner reminded the jury that there had been more than a hundred similar incidents of serious crimes at the store, such as battery and robbery, most within the two years prior to the murder. However, said Tanner, there was no annual security assessment at this "crime magnet" by either Wal-Mart or Wackenhut, and the Wackenhut patrol officer was not trained to identify or deal with suspicious persons. Wal-Mart also allegedly failed to comply with its own security guidelines.

For Wal-Mart, Rob Phillips of Phillips, Spallas, and Angstadt, told the jury, "This is what's extremely frightening about this case. We are imposing on...the Wal-Mart store a super-human, an incredible burden...I implore you to understand that a retailer does not provide a dome of protection for individuals. There is no law that says when someone walks on the property they are guaranteed to be safe from erratic behavior, or criminals that have an intent to commit crimes." Nonetheless, said Phillips, Wal-Mart provided better security than anyone else in the retail industry at the time of the crime.

Moreover, said Phillips, there is no evidence in the case that the perpetrator was acting suspiciously. He was on the property for twelve minutes. There was no evidence that he was loitering or that he did anything out of the ordinary. And even if he had been acting suspiciously, Wal-Mart could not reasonably have been expected to have an opportunity to view the suspicious behavior, and to spot the perpetrator from among 670 other people who visited the store in an hour.

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