Criminal Justice

Is AA to blame for '13th Step' slaying, as lawsuit claims?

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A 48 Hours program over the weekend has brought renewed attention to a civil case being pursued by the family of a 31-year-old California woman slain by a man she met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

Eric Allen Earle, 43, was convicted of first-degree murder in September and sentenced to 26 years to life a month later, according to the Los Angeles Times (sub. req.) and a press release (PDF) from the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

However, the civil wrongful death suit brought by the parents of his victim, Karla Brada Mendez, over her 2011 slaying is still ongoing.

At issue is whether Alcoholics Anonymous, where the two met as they were both bused in to attend sobriety meetings at a California facility, had a duty to warn Mendez that she might meet Earle or someone like him there. A convicted criminal with a history of violence against women when he had been drinking, Earle—like a number of other men—repeatedly took the 12-step AA program farther than recommended, the suit says.

The so-called “13th step”—exploiting troubled women sexually and financially—takes place against AA recommendations that those battling addictions refrain from involvement in romantic relationships. Yet this kind of predatory behavior at AA meetings occurs often enough that the organization needs to take measures to protect attendees against it, the suit contends.

It says AA had a “reckless disregard for, and deliberate indifference … to the safety and security of victims attending AA meetings who are repeatedly preyed upon at those meetings by financial, violent and sexual predators like Earle,” according to Pro Publica and a Courthouse News article published when the Los Angeles Superior Court suit was filed.

As 48 Hours points out, a number of those who attend AA meetings are required by a court order to do so.

AA, which was named as a defendant in the suit along with Earle and others, says it “has no authority, legal or otherwise to control the behavior of AA members,” 48 Hours reports. AA’s affiliated chapters operate independently, and those who avail themselves of AA’s services are not required to provide personal information.

Attorney David Arredondo represented Earle. He told the CBS News program that his client’s prior misdemeanor convictions in domestic violence and other battery cases “did not involve serious injury.”

Related coverage: “Slain woman’s family alleges AA meetings point ‘financial, sexual, and violent predators’ to victims”

Crimesider (CBS News) “Women, alcohol, and a potential unseen risk”

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