Boyfriend found liable for topless photo e-mail

Friday, March 26, 2004

LUMBERTON, N.C. -- A former boyfriend of beauty queen Rebekah Revels could be forced to pay damages after a jury Thursday found him liable for sending an e-mail about topless photos that ended her reign as Miss North Carolina. Jurors deliberated just under two hours before deciding that Tosh Welch interfered with Revels' contract as Miss North Carolina 2002 and with her potential contract with the Miss America organization. They rejected a claim that Welch intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Revels.

"This is a very happy day for me," Revels said after the verdict. "I'm just elated right now." Welch and his attorney, John Regan, declined comment.

Jurors must return Friday to consider possible damages. Revels has estimated she lost $20,000 to $30,000 in appearance fees, the free use of a car for a year and a $10,000 gift from the city of Fayetteville when state pageant officials stripped her of the title.

Welch, a 26-year-old police officer on the reservation of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, earns $27,000 a year, plus $6,000 a year from the tribe's gambling proceeds.

Barry Nakell, Revels' attorney, said damages must be based in part on Welch's earnings. Revels wants compensatory damages for lost income and punitive damages. He said he hadn't decided on a final amount to request.

The trial took less than two days. After Welch testified as the only defense witness, Superior Court Judge G.K. Butterfield dismissed claims that he invaded Revels' privacy and negligently inflicted emotional distress.

During his testimony, Welch admitted writing an e-mail in July 2002 -- a month after Revels won the crown -- questioning her qualifications.

"Would you want to be represented by someone with a past?" the note said. "Nude pics of Miss America bring in big bucks nowadays."

The e-mail also hinted that Revels, 25, may have lived with her boyfriend, something specifically barred by her pageant contract. Shortly thereafter, state pageant officials asked Revels to resign or be terminated.

Revels acknowledged that Welch may have had nude pictures of her. She testified Wednesday that one was taken in her dormitory at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke while she was changing clothes. She said she didn't know until later that Welch had taken one of her while at his family's home.

She also said they lived together for a summer in an apartment shared with several people to save money. Welch testified Thursday that they shared the apartment for seven months, mostly by themselves.

"For lack of a better term, we were just shacking up in a one-bedroom apartment," Welch said.

The jury's verdict shows that Welch isn't believable, Revels said afterward. She also said she understood why the jury rejected her claim of emotional distress since she chose to receive spiritual rather than professional help after losing her title days after the e-mail was sent.

"I'm still emotional," she said. "I'm still stressed. I have a stigma on me that he placed on me in many ways."

Revels is currently working in public relations for her native Lumbee tribe and hopes to launch a singing career.

Welch denied that he was acting out of spite, but Nakell portrayed him as a bitter ex-boyfriend out for revenge. Welch left school without graduating soon after Revels broke off their relationship.

"He simply is writing the Miss America organization, trying to hurt, trying to sabotage her contract," Nakell said during his closing argument Thursday.

Welch told jurors Thursday in his first public comments about the case that he only wanted pageant organizers to investigate Revels' background more thoroughly.

"In my mind, they were just very good questions ... they didn't have to ask her," Welch said. "At that point, I knew it to be a misrepresentation of who she was. It was an untruth."

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