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Jury yet to reach verdict in Rolling Stone trial

Deliberations to continue Thursday

<p>Eramo claims she was defamed by&nbsp;Rolling Stone, Erdely and Wenner Media, Inc. in "A Rape On Campus."&nbsp;</p>

Eramo claims she was defamed by Rolling Stone, Erdely and Wenner Media, Inc. in "A Rape On Campus." 

After a full day of deliberation, the jury in former Associate Dean Nicole Eramo’s $7.5 million defamation suit against Rolling Stone Magazine, writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Wenner Media, Inc. went home Wednesday evening and will continue their discussions Thursday.

The trial — which began Oct. 17 — focuses on Eramo’s claim that Erdely’s article, “A Rape on Campus,” falsely depicted her as uncaring and indifferent towards sexual assault survivors.

The article centred on an alleged gang rape of a former University student named Jackie, who claimed she was gang raped in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house during her first year at the University. A subsequent Charlottesville Police Department investigationwas unable to substantiate Jackie’s claims.

Rolling Stone issued an official retraction of the article in April 2015 after a Columbia Journalism Review report called the article a “journalistic failure that was avoidable,” citing egregious errors in the sourcing and fact-checking of the article.

The 13-day trial saw 12 in-person testimonies, including those of Eramo and Erdely, and six video depositions, including Jackie’s. Five days of the trial included testimony from Erdely.

U.S. District Court Judge Glen Conrad spent over an hour Wednesday morning providing the jury with their instructions prior to their deliberations.

Definitions of key words in the case such as “actual malice” and “defamation” were provided along with the full list of statements that are to be deliberated over.

There were three verdict forms given to each jury member — one for each defendant. Erdely, Rolling Stone and Wenner Media, Inc. are each to be considered individually.

For each statement, there are two questions to be considered — was the statement actionable, and if so, was the statement written with actual malice.

Conrad explained how actual malice is not negligence. Those in question would have had to have entertained serious doubts regarding their sources.

“A failure to investigate does not equate to actual malice,” Conrad explained before the court.

Conrad also said the jury will have to decide whether the addition of an editor’s note to the article constituted republication. Eramo claims that by adding an editor’s note on Dec. 5, 2014, the original article and its statements were republished.

Conrad’s final words to the jury were to select a foreperson who would deliver a unanimous verdict.

“In short, it is for you to decide,” Conrad said.

After the jury departed, Conrad invited challenges to the instructions.

Eramo’s attorney Libby Locke was concerned by the phrase “defamatory statement of fact” that was included in the jury instructions.

“I don't want to leave the jury with the impression they have to decide if a statement is of fact or opinion,” Locke said.

Conrad overruled this objection as he seemed to believe the instructions were clear.

Rolling Stone attorney Elizabeth McNamara noticed that “untruthfulness” was said instead of “truthfulness” which was written on page 35 of the instructions. Yet, McNamara declined the Court’s offer to read the sentence again, as the jury were provided with a clean copy of the instructions.

The jury’s first question was a request for a copy of the original magazine that the article was published in. This was provided without objection.

After an afternoon of no updates, court reconvened around 5 p.m., and the judge read two requests from the jury.

The first was to dismiss the jury for the evening and reconvene at 9:30 a.m. Thursday morning.

The second request was to see a copy of a Washington Post article from Dec. 1, 2014 which reported that Erdely had not reached out to Jackie’s alleged rapists in the reporting leading up to the publication of the article.

The judge granted the first request to recess, but denied the second request, noting the article was not introduced as evidence in the trial.

Court will reconvene Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m.

Tim Dodson contributed reporting to this article.


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