A defamation suit against the Dixie Chicks has been moved to federal court.

Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of three 8-year-old Arkansas boys killed 15 years ago, filed suit against the band in an Arkansas circuit court last year. His claims stem from statements made by lead singer Natalie Maines at a 2007 rally for the three men convicted of the killings. Hobbs claims Maines, who supports a reopening of the case, unjustly accused him of involvement in the murders. He also cited a letter posted on the Chicks' website about "new information" in the murders, including DNA tests showing that one of Hobbs' hairs was found on one of the victims.

Those claims will now be heard before a higher court. Attorneys filed notice last week of the move to federal court, contending that federal jurisdiction applies because the parties are from different states and because the amount of damages being sought is likely to exceed $75,000.

Lawyers for the Dixie Chicks said the singers' statements were made in good faith, without malice, against a man who has become a public figure because of the notoriety of the criminal case. Under the law, a public figure has a higher burden of proof and must show that defamatory statements were made with "actual malice," either known to be false or issued with reckless disregard for the truth. Maines' lawyers also argue her statements were an exercise of free speech under the First Amendment.

Christopher Byers, Michael Moore, and Hobb's stepson Steve Branch were found dead in a ditch near their West Memphis, Ark. neighborhoods in 1993. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, then teenagers, were convicted of the killings. Echols is on death row; Baldwin and Misskelley are serving prison sentences. To supporters who say the three men were wrongly convicted, the men are known as "The West Memphis Three."

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