A federal jury in Tennessee has ruled that a lesbian couple intentionally set their house on fire and then tried to make it look like a hate crime perpetrated by their neighbour.
In a US District Court Monday, the American National Property and Casualty (ANPAC) company won the lawsuit against the fire claim of couple Carol Ann Stutte and Laura Jean Stutte, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
The jury ruled that the insurer proved that the couple burned down their house in Vonore in Monroe County on Sept. 4, 2010, spray painted the word "queers" and described it as a hate crime done by their neighbour Janice Millsaps.
The couple filed a case against Millsaps in the Monroe County Chancery Court, saying that she "repeatedly threatened the lives of the Stuttes" and "specifically and repeatedly threatened to burn the Stuttes' house."
Millsaps allegedly told the Stuttes: "Do you know what is better than one dead queer? Two dead queers."
She denied that she had anything to do with the fire.
The Stuttes filed the claim, which was denied by ANPAC. The insurer filed a case against the couple in May 2011.
The insurer, based on its own probe, said the couple set their home on fire. The couple said they were in Nashville at the time of the fire and provided evidence including phone records and a testimony from a woman who said she was with the couple before, during and after the fire.
The jury returned their verdict after five days of hearing testimonies before US District Judge Leon Jordan.
They also rejected the claim by the couple that American National was trying to avoid paying their fire claim.
In an interview with Metro Pulse two weeks after the fire, the couple talked about a neighbour who repeatedly made verbal threats to them.
"One threat that was made over and over was, 'We take care of things the hillbilly way, and a lot of bodies have never been found in these hills,'" said Carol Ann.
The same neighbour said she knew how to poison animals and the Stuttes' black lab got sick and died.
"We suspect that's who did it, but unless she threatened us in an officer's hearing, or someone saw her, it was all things that couldn't be proven. Can I prove it? No. Did it happen? Yes."