Rolling Stone Trial: Opening Statements Presented, Eramo Testifies

Posted: Updated: Oct 18, 2016 08:31 PM
A federal courtroom in Charlottesville (FILE) A federal courtroom in Charlottesville (FILE)
Nicole Eramo (center) leaving federal court with her legal team Nicole Eramo (center) leaving federal court with her legal team

Day two of trial in the defamation lawsuit filed against Rolling Stone magazine picked back up Tuesday morning with both sides presenting opening statements in Charlottesville.

The jury will decide if the magazine, its publisher Wenner Media, and author Sabrina Rubin Erdely defamed the name of former University of Virginia Associate Dean of Students Nicole Eramo.

In November, 2014, the magazine published "A Rape on Campus" by Erdely. In the article, a UVA student referred to as "Jackie" described being gang raped at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at UVA in September of 2012. Details in the article did not hold up under scrutiny by other media organizations. An investigation by Charlottesville police in 2015 found no evidence to back up the claims made in the article. Rolling Stone retracted the article and apologized.

Eramo claims the article unfairly targeted her, portraying her as indifferent to Jackie's plight and only interested in protecting the university's reputation. She is seeking around $7.5 million in damages.

Tuesday morning, jurors first listened to an audio recording of Erdely on a radio show in New York. In it, the author discussed her focus on UVA in the article, the response from university administration, and who Erdely reached out to for response. Eramo became visibly emotion in the courtroom when she came up in the recorded discussion.

Eramo's attorney, Tom Claire, delivered the first opening statement. He said, "This case is about a journalistic failure."

Claire told the jury he plans to use a taped deposition from Jackie to show Eramo did everything right in the handling of her case, and even took Jackie to meet with police twice. He told jurors early drafts show that was in the original article and was cut in the end.

Claire finished his opening statements around 9:30 a.m.

Defense attorney Scott Sexton says Eramo is a public figure and is open to criticism.

“A public figure has a higher burden than simple negligence. You have to show that they intentionally did this,” explained legal expert David Heilberg.

Sexton said Erdely and Rolling Stone Magazine have nothing against Eramo, and that the plaintiff has received a pay increase since the article came out.

Sexton told jurors they will hear two hours of taped conversations between Erdely, Jackie and friends to help prove Jackie’s credibility. The defense attorney says 80 hours were spent fact checking the story, as well as four hours with Jackie.

The court took a lunch break following the defense’s opening statements.

Eramo took the stand at about 12:30 p.m. She spent the first part of her testimony describing her work with sexual assault survivors over the years and her awards for that work.

The plaintiff then drilled into her interactions with Jackie and their first meeting on May 20, 2013. Clare showed the jury the original incident report from that meeting, which detailed Jackie’s story of going to the frat.

On the stand, Eramo got emotional and cried at times while reading a string of emails from herself to Jackie. Those emails show Eramo checked in on Jackie and urged her to report the sexual assault to police.

"I think the evidence is coming in well. I think she's holding up well through the trial. It's obviously very emotional for her to go back and relive these experiences,” said Libby Locke, Eramo’s attorney.

The emails also contained praise from Jackie to Eramo for her help.

Eramo testified, "I was very concerned about her state," adding Jackie was considering suicide.

The court took a short break around 2:30 p.m., before continuing with Eramo’s testimony and going into cross-examination.

Eramo says she doesn't blame Jackie for all of this.

Eramo will be back on the stand first thing Wednesday morning for more cross-examination. Her attorneys are hopeful Erdely will take the stand on Wednesday. Court resumes at 8 a.m.

The jury trial began on Monday, October 17, and is scheduled to last 10 days. Only seven jurors, to be specified later, will ultimately deliberate; three will be alternates.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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