COLUMBIA, S.C. – A jury on Tuesday cleared Wal-Mart of negligence in hiring a convicted sex offender who fondled a 10-year-old girl while on the job.
The girl's mother sued Wal-Mart in 2001, claiming the retail giant should have known Bobby Devon Randall was a convicted sex offender. The family sought damages of up to $5 million in connection with the September 2000 incident.
Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., said at the time it was not legally required to do background checks and that the employee who fondled the girl lied about his criminal past on his job application.
The company decided in August 2004 that it would begin conducting background checks on new hires nationwide.
Judge Ernest Kinard gave an attorney for the girl's family 10 days to file an appeal.
"I just, legally, from a lawyer's standpoint, do not understand how this jury could have reached this verdict," said David Massey, the family's lawyer.
Wal-Mart attorney Stephen Morrison expressed sympathy for the victim and her family.
What Randall did "was indecent and not the right thing to do," Morrison said. But "it's just a situation where Wal-Mart didn't do anything negligent that caused that to happen in their store."
Randall pleaded guilty in 2002 to committing a lewd act on a minor and received a 10-year sentence, but he died about six months later in prison after suffering an apparent heart attack, authorities said.
Randall's criminal record included three indecent exposure convictions between July 1990 and March 1999, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.