Sabrina Rubin Erdely, part of former Associate Dean Nicole Eramo’s $7.85 million dollar lawsuit against Rolling Stone, returned to the stand Friday to continue her testimony.
Erdely defended her article “A Rape on Campus,” stating Friday that her article is not about Eramo but about Title IX policies, which state an investigation into sexual assault must take place, regardless of what the student in question wants.
The trial continued with a cross-examination of Erdely by her attorney, Scott Sexton.
A two hour audio recording of an interview conducted by Erdely with Jackie — the subject of Erdely’s article who alleged she was gang raped at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity — on Sept. 11, 2014, was played before the court.
Jackie’s case was found to be unsubstantiated by the Charlottesville Police Department.
In the recording, Jackie explains how there were two other girls that she believed had also been sexually assaulted at the same fraternity.
One girl in particular, “Becky,” was referred to frequently in the recording.
“[Becky] said they forcibly had intercourse with her … I remember just being very, very scared by her story,” Jackie said in the interview.
Sexton asked whether Erdely agreed with the suggestion that Becky may not be a real person and is, in fact, a fictitious piece of Jackie’s imagination.
Due to the “specific level of detail, [it was] difficult not to imagine her as a real person,” Erdely responded, referring to Jackie’s detailed description of Becky — from the distinct shape of her nose to her “business casual” style — in the recorded interview.
Sexton questioned the consistency of Jackie’s demeanor during interactions with Erdely. Erdely replied that she was usually this bubbly and believable.
“It was like drinking out of a fire hose when you were around Jackie,” Erdely said.
Evidence of an email conversation between Jackie and Erdely on Aug. 16, 2014 was also displayed before the court. Sexton asked Erdely, based on their meetings together, what Jackie believed Eramo would need in order to take action towards removing a fraternity’s charter.
“Eramo was communicating that in order to take action, it would need the word of three women,” Erdely said in regard to the impression she gained from Jackie. “I was amazed that that would be the standard.”
Sexton asked if Erdely ever thought Jackie no longer wanted to be involved in the article, after hearing from another then-student, Alex Pinkleton, that Jackie may be having second thoughts.
“Jackie never suggested to me she wanted to pull out of the article,” Erdely said. “She was thanking me for the article.”
Erdely stated in the afternoon that her article was the product of a fact-finding mission.
Erdely organized a Sept. 11 interview with Eramo, which was later “quashed” by Pat Lampkin, University vice president and chief student affairs officer. Erdely and Eramo crossed paths at a Board of Visitors meeting, where Erdely expressed hope for a future interview.
“She told me she hoped we would be able to speak as well,” Erdely said.
Sexton played a recording of an Oct. 2014 phone interview between President Teresa Sullivan, University spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn and Erdely. In the phone call, Erdely questioned Sullivan about the University’s sexual assault policies, and asked theoretical questions about several cases — including Jackie’s alleged gang rape.
Erdely pointed out that de Bruyn emailed her a correction after the interview. When Erdely referred to a trial where three women testified, de Bruyn informed Erdely only one woman testified, and the other two submitted written statements.
Erdely stated the fact was corrected in the final draft of her article. She received no email contradicting the allegations of gang rape she mentioned.
Erdely testified she did not intend to place blame directly on Eramo, and never endorsed the interpretation that Eramo — not the University in general — was responsible for underreporting.
In Sept. 2014, Pinkleton and Jackie met with Eramo after the disappearance of University student Hannah Graham. Erdely said both Pinkleton and Jackie reported Eramo said, “We’re just kind of f—d right now. We’re flat out f—d,” considering Graham’s abduction and Erdely’s investigation.
This anecdote was included in the first draft of Erdely’s article but was later removed.
“There was no need to pile on [Eramo],” Erdely testified. “We had already made it clear U.Va. was concerned about its reputation, and there was no need to pull her into the mix.”
The defense argued the assertions that Eramo’s statements were false came not from Erdely but from Jackie, and that Rolling Stone’s Dec. 5 retraction therefore relieves both Rolling Stone and Erdely from being guilty of libel.
“I personally cannot stand by the notion that there was a non-reaction, because that came solely from Jackie,” Erdely said. “We aren’t standing by anything Jackie said.”