Rolling Stone Trial: Article Fact-Checker Trusted Jackie's Story
Jurors hear testimony from a woman employed by Rolling Stone, two police officers, and two people named in an article tied to a lawsuit brought forward by a former UVA official.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A woman employed as a fact-checker for Rolling Stone was one of several witnesses jurors heard testimony from Tuesday in a defamation lawsuit brought forward by a former associate dean at the University of Virginia.
Rolling Stone published "A Rape on Campus" by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in its November 2014 issue. The article centered on "Jackie", a UVA student, who 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.
Elisabeth Garber-Paul was tasked with fact-checking Erdely's article for the magazine. She was back on the the witness stand on Tuesday, October 25.
Garber-Paul was first called to testify by Eramo's legal team Monday afternoon. She told the court that Rolling Stone did not have any written policies for fact-checking at the time "A Rape on Campus" was published. Garber-Paul also admitted that she, Erdely, and editor Sean Woods all decided to not confirm Jackie's story with her friends.
Defense attorney Elizabeth McNamara began cross-examining Garber-Paul Tuesday morning.
Garber-Paul told the court about her two 2-hour long phone conversations with Jackie, and how she went into "great detail" about her story. She said Jackie never indicated that she wanted to drop out of the article, testifying, "she [Jackie] was a willing participant."
On Jackie’s credibility, Garber-Paul said, "I had a sense she was reliving the worst moment of her life."
Garber-Paul said Jackie didn't appear to have a hidden agenda, and stated, "I trusted her."
The court watched a videotaped deposition of Kathryn Hendley, who was identified as Jackie's friend Cindy in the article.
Hendley disputed quotes attributed to her in the article, and claims Rolling Stone never contacted her.
"Jackie had a tendency to fabricate things," said Hendley during the deposition. She goes on to say she stopped being friends with Jackie around May 2013, citing the reason being Jackie making up stories and rumors.
Hendley seemed to relate to author Sabrina Rubin Erdely, saying at one point, "I understand what it was like to be lied to by Jackie."
Officer Benjamin Rexrode with the UVA Police Department took the stand Tuesday. Rexrode, who has been with UVA Police for 8 years, has set up training with Eramo.
The officer said of Eramo, “She was the face of not only prevention but response."
Rexrode was contacted by Eramo over Jackie's bottle incident and helped to get the Charlottesville police Department involved in the case.
Attorney Libby Locke had Rexrode go through what Jackie reported. He noted that Jackie did not want a criminal investigation, and that she, “shut down very quickly."
Rexrode told the court that Erdely’s article didn't portray Eramo properly, and that he was concerned for her safety after the piece was published.
Jurors next watched a videotaped deposition of Ryan Duffin, a person Jackie said was with her the night she was raped. Duffin was called “Randall” in Erdely’s article.
According to Duffin, Jackie didn’t want to report the attack to police. He told jurors,"she seemed shaken" but was not bruised or bloody. He also said Jackie told him ,"If she went to the police, she would have to tell the story again, and again, and again.
Duffin said he never declined to be interviewed and would have done one if Rolling Stone had contacted him. He also said, "The only attempt to contact me was Erdely through Jackie, asking Jackie to contact me."
He also spoke about “Haven Monahan”, a fake persona that Jackie may have created. Jackie claims Monahan was the man who took her to the fraternity house the night she was raped.
Eramo’s lawyers say they have proof Jackie is Monahan, and that she created a Yahoo email account with that name. Court documents show the Haven Monahan account was created back in October of 2012, one day before lawyers say Jackie sent an email to Duffin.
Plaintiff’s attorneys believe Jackie created Monahan in an attempt to make Duffin pursue Jackie in a romantic relationship. In his taped deposition, Duffin claims Jackie cried when he rejected her advances.
Duffin also says he tried and failed to locate Monahan on UVA's People Search, a publicly-accessible database allowing people to look up university students by name. After not being able to find Monahan, he said, "I started not to believe her story," but added he assumed students would still be in the system within days of dropping out.
Attorneys for Jackie say their client doesn’t have any documents or texts for Monahan, however they admitted to having accessed Monahan’s email.
Day eight of the trial wrapped up with the testimony of Sargent Jacob Via with the Charlottesville Police Department. He was in charge of investigating Jackie's alleged rape after the article's publication.
Via was introduced to both Jackie and Eramo and met with both in Eramo's office when he was tasked to follow up with the report of Jackie's sexual assault that first came to light during the bottle throwing incident when she also mentioned the sexual assault to a Charlottesville police officer.
Via testified he met with Jackie again after the article was published because the Charlottesville Police Department opened a case looking into her alleged rape. During the meeting, which included Jackie, her then-boyfriend, her attorney, and Dean Laurie Casteen, Via said Jackie did not speak and her attorney told him Jackie was not ready to make a statement.
The investigation into Jackie's rape lasted four months and included speaking with 70 to 80 different people, including Erdely. Via said he spoke with Erdely twice and she was very cooperative in the investigation.
After a four month investigation, Via concluded that police "Found that there was no corroborating evidence to conclude that there was a sexual assault as described in the article."
Tuesday's trial wrapped up at 5:15 p.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.