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Rolling Stone Trial: Defense Continues Examining Sabrina Erdely

Posted: Updated: Oct 22, 2016 05:26 PM
Sabrina Rubin Erdely entering court in Charlottesville Sabrina Rubin Erdely entering court in Charlottesville
Legal analyst Lloyd Snook Legal analyst Lloyd Snook
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

The author behind a now-retracted Rolling Stone article is back on the stand for a third day in a row for a multimillion dollar defamation case.

Sabrina Rubin Erdely was back on the witness stand Friday, October 21.

Defense attorney J. Scott Sexton is cross-examining Erdely, diving into the author’s interactions with Jackie. It appears Sexton is trying to show the jury how Erdely constantly asked Jackie for access and interviews with key people to help verify Jackie's story.

Sexton played an audio tape for jurors of a meeting between Erdely and Jackie, stopping it at times to ask the author to provide more details to the court.

Erdely testified, “[Jackie] was completely straight forward, or at least that's how I perceived it."

“Two points, first of all there's a general rule that if you play part of a tape and the other side wants the rest of it played for context, that it's OK to go ahead and play the entire tape, just play it all at once. Don't play bits and pieces,” explained legal analyst Lloyd Snook. “The second point is that if the plaintiffs are going to try to prove, if Nicole Eramo is going to try to prove that Ms Erdely was just grossly negligent, was terribly reckless in the way that she handled it, the context is everything. You can't do that without assessing the entire context.”

The author explained who she followed up with from Jackie's recommendations for the article. Erdely explained how convincing Jackie was when telling her why UVA student Ryan Duffin wouldn’t' talk to the author: Jackie cited Duffin's loyalty to his fraternity. Her claim about Duffin would later be debunked.

Sexton played audio of when Jackie claims Eramo reportedly asked, "Who would want to send their daughter to the rape school?" Erdely testified that she believed that comment to be sincere, and thought Jackie was, "Enacting a memory."

At another point in the taped recordings, Jackie talked about how the smell of marijuana triggers memories from the night she was raped, because that is what the room she says she was attacked in smelled like.

"She was remembering it in incredible detail. She was relaying to me an actual memory," Erdely said on the witness stand. She testified, “Jackie was like this throughout the process," adding that, "she never wavered."

Erdely recalled Jackie talking about a reoccurring nightmare she had about the night she was raped: "[Jackie] tells it in such a real and emotional way.”

On tape, Jackie tells Erdely that she has a feminist tattoo on her body to memorialize her rape. Sexton asked Erdely if she believed people would get a tattoo with a fake meaning behind it, which she testified, "It never crossed my mind."

Jurors also heard in those recordings Jackie talking about being a sexual assault survivor, and claiming other survivors confided in her, as well as encounters with alleged assailants.

Sexton also had Erdely explain to the court why she wrote what she wrote in the article. The defense attorney asked her about her interactions with Laura Dunn, the founder and executive director of SurvJustice.

Dunn was interviewed by Erdely for her Rolling Stone article. Dunn said to Erdely that, "They [the UVA administration] have the legal knowledge necessary to be held liable," in connection to Jackie’s story.

Erdely testified that she viewed Dunn as an expert on the topic of Title IX and Clery laws.

Sexton presented to jurors Erdely’s request to the Charlottesville Police Department on an assault that occurred in the area of University Avenue on April 6, 2014. Jackie claims she was assaulted on the UVA Corner, and had emailed a picture of what appears to be bruises to Erdely.

The defense attorney says all of this is what lead to Erdely believing Jackie’s story.

“Either you prove that someone says, ‘I really want to stick it to Nicole Eramo, I don't like her.’ We don't have that here. Or, you try to show there was so much wrong about the reporting that no reasonable, no rational reporter would possibly have done that,” Snook said.

Sexton reminded the jury that Erdely did try to talk with Eramo for the article, but that the university canceled that interview.

UVA Associate Vice President for Communications McGregor McCance said via email on September 11, 2014,"Nicole [Eramo] is indeed the most knowledgeable of our policies and procedures here. Unfortunately, she is not going to be available for an interview."

Erdely testified to jurors, "It seemed like they were stonewalling me."

Erdely was on the witness stand for the rest of the day and is expected to testify more when court resumes Saturday, October 22.

Erdely’s article, "A Rape on Campus," was published in Rolling Stone’s November 2014 issue. In the article, a University of Virginia student referred to as "Jackie" described being gang raped at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in September of 2012. An investigation by Charlottesville police in 2015 found no evidence to back up the claims made in the article. Rolling Stone eventually retracted the article and apologized.

Nicole Eramo, then the associate dean of students at UVA, claims Erdely’s article unfairly portrayed her as indifferent to Jackie's plight and only interested in protecting the university's reputation. Eramo is seeking around $7.5 million in damages.

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.

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