BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Rejecting an appeal by video-game makers and sellers, the Alabama Supreme Court has kept alive a $600 million lawsuit blaming "Grand Theft Auto" for the murders of the three-person night shift at a rural police department.
A lawyer for the victims' families said the decision sets the stage for what could be the nation's first trial over killings blamed on video games, perhaps as early as January 2007.
"No one has ever before survived a motion to dismiss, so we're excited," said attorney Jack Thompson.
The lawsuit was filed by relatives of two police officers and a radio dispatcher slain in 2003 in the northwest Alabama city of Fayette.
Without comment, the justices on March 24 turned aside the industry's argument that the lawsuit should be thrown out because the companies have a First Amendment right to sell the games.
The state high court, however, has agreed to hear manufacturers' claims that Alabama courts lack the power to hear the case.
A representative of game manufacturer Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. did not return a message seeking comment for this story.
The suit was filed by relatives of the three men shot to death by a teenager who has since been sentenced to death. It claims the murders mimicked video violence in "Grand Theft Auto," which attorneys said the shooter played obsessively.
The companies deny any link between the game and the slayings.
The families filed suit against Take-Two Interactive and subsidiary Rockstar Games Inc.; Sony, which manufactures the PlayStation game systems; and two stores where Moore allegedly bought games, Wal-Mart and Gamestop in Jasper.
The high court's decision let stand a ruling by a circuit judge who rejected claims by the companies that they had a right under the First Amendment to sell the games.
The families contended that free-speech rights do not protect the sale of mature-rated video games to minors.
Evidence showed Devin Moore, 18 at the time, grabbed an officer's gun and started shooting inside the Fayette Police Department, where he was being booked on suspicion of car theft in June 2003. Killed were officers Arnold Strickland, 55, and James Crump, 40, and dispatcher Leslie "Ace" Mealer, 38.
A judge last year sentenced Moore to death for the slayings after barring his defense from linking the shootings to violent video games.
But relatives of the men filed suit blaming the killings on Moore's repeated playing of two games in the "Grand Theft Auto" series, in which players can shoot police officers. Evidence showed Moore told investigators after his arrest: "Life is a video game; everybody has to die sometime."