NEW YORK – The family of Michael Hart, a West Virginia man whose killer was featured on a VH1 special last year, is suing the network's parent company for emotional distress.
Hart's mother, Linda Garrett, and sister Misty Hart have filed a suit against Viacom seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a court order preventing VH1 from re-airing the Music Behind Bars special that featured the music of Michael's killer, among other criminals.
"Our case is alleging that despite repeated requests not to air the show, VH1 went ahead and it did it anyway," said Hart family attorney Liz Thompson.
Court documents say Misty Hart and other friends and family members repeatedly tried to contact VH1 and ask them not to air the episode featuring Michael's murderer, Jason Henthorne. West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise also wrote a letter on the family’s behalf.
The suit alleges VH1 actually aired the program earlier than originally scheduled, and only then acknowledged the requests not to air it. The suit also alleges Henthorne, who was convicted in 1995 and is eligible for parole in 2009 for the 1994 killing, was paid for his appearance.
VH1 denied Henthorne was paid in any way.
"No one featured on this series received any compensation whatsoever," the music network said in a statement released to Fox News. "The episode in question aired once and has not been aired since. Series completed its run. We have no plan to run the series again."
But whether Henthorne was paid or not doesn't change the fact that the special caused Hart's family emotional damage, said lawyers.
"A criminal who has harassed this family is being celebrated as someone of merit and it's causing the family to feel more harassed. VH1 is assisting in harassing the family," said Cy Weiner, another attorney representing Hart and Garret. "The victims are sitting there and they have no outlet for their feelings. This is a victim’s rights case, primarily. And it’s an example of corporate irresponsibility."
Arnold Shapiro, producer of the Music Behind Bars series, which focused on bands in several prisons across the country, told Foxnews.com in an interview last year the program was not meant to laud the killers, rapists and other convicted criminals featured.
"It was never our intention to make heroes of these criminals, just to show that a music program in a prison has many beneficial arenas to it," said Shapiro, who created the 1978 Oscar-winning prison documentary Scared Straight. "I would never want to glorify criminals. I’m not fond of criminals."
A call to VH1 for this story was not returned.
Shapiro said the program was meant to show the up side of arts programs in prison. "Music programs in whatever form they take actually benefit the prison itself. They focus the men and women on something positive," he said. "It contributes to rehabilitation of the criminal."
But Weiner said prisoners are locked up to be punished, and only secondarily to be reformed. "There is no constitutional right to play the electric guitar."
How much money the Hart family could win in the case is not clear.
"Punitive damages means 'VH1, you did a really bad thing. We should punish you' ... And the idea is punish them where it hurts, which is in their pocketbooks," said Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl. "They're also asking for compensatory damages, to be compensated for their out-of-pocket expenses like any psychiatric care they needed or lost work and attorney fees."
Wiehl said she also believes the lawyers have a good case of corporate irresponsibility against VH1.
"I think they have a credible claim and it will get to a jury. Let a jury decide this issue."
And while Music Behind Bars is over, the victims' families say they are still reeling from the experience.
"It upsets me really bad because I, you know, it's something you never get over. I live with it every day," Hart's mother told Fox News' Bill O'Reilly.