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EX-PROSECUTOR WINS $34 MILLION IN LIBEL SUIT

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A former city prosecutor won a record $34 million libel suit against The Philadelphia Inquirer in a case that stemmed from newspaper stories written 17 years ago.

A Common Pleas Court jury on Thursday awarded $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $31.5 million in punitive damages to lawyer Richard A. Sprague, a former first assistant district attorney.The decision was the largest award ever against the news media, surpassing the $28 million won last month by a heart surgeon against a San Antonio television station.

The judgment was more than seven times the $4.5 million verdict that the Inquirer had successfully appealed from the first trial in the case.

Sprague sued in 1983 over articles dating to 1973 that questioned his actions and decisions as a prosecutor.

His attorney, James E. Beasley, said the jury's verdict sent a message to investigative reporters "not to destroy somebody's reputation."

The Inquirer said it would appeal.