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Updated: Jurors Hear From 'Jackie's' Friends in Rolling Stone Trial

Steve Helber

Update: Friday, Oct. 28 

A jury in Charlottesville heard from the Deputy Managing Editor of Rolling Stone Magazine Thursday – the publication and one of its reporters, Sabrina Erdely, facing a $7.5 million defamation suite. Dean Seal, who’s covering the trial for the city’s daily newspaper, says Sean Cole admitted to mistakes.

“Not just that Miss Erdely made but that he made as editor – times when he should have been a little more scrupulous. He did definitely say he believed the piece mislead readers," Seal says. "They did ask if he thought some harm had come to Miss Eramo because of the article. He did, after some questioning, say yes to that, but then noted that he believed as a public figure she is subject to criticism.”


Friday the jury will view video depositions from Rolling Stone’s former managing editor Will Dana and publisher Jan Wenner.


Update: Thursday, Oct. 27


A jury in Charlottesville has now heard from two students who were friends with a woman known only as Jackie. She was the central figure in Rolling Stone’s now discredited story called A Rape on Campus. Daily Progress reporter Dean Seal has been covering the trial. He says the account given by Jackie’s friends did not match the magazine’s description of a vicious attack.




“She was shaken but not hurt, not bloody, not bruised," Seal says. "She wasn’t wearing this blood spattered dress or anything like that. It wasn’t 3 a.m. They weren’t outside of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. This was at the freshman dorms where they all lived. They also spoke about how their friendships with Jackie started to dwindle after a while, because as Kathryn Hendley put it, she had a tendency to fabricate things.”


But Seal says lawyers for the plaintiff – UVA administrator Nicole Eramo – have not proven malice on the part of reporter Sabrina Erdely, and that’s necessary if they hope to collect millions of dollars in damages.


“It would be my guess at this point that they’re going to let Miss Eramo’s attorneys wrap up their evidence, and then they’re going to submit to the judge that that evidence didn’t actually show any malice, and in a case like this that’s something that’s going to be necessary to prove in order for the case to go forward,” says Seal.


The trial continues Thursday, with Rolling Stone’s managing editor on the stand.


Update: Tuesday, Oct. 25

What some thought would be the highlight of testimony in the multi-million dollar suit against Rolling Stone Magazine provided little new information.


The woman known as Jackie – the alleged victims of a gang rape -- appeared in a video-taped deposition seen by the jury. Spectators like Charlottesville Daily Progress reporter Dean Seal were only allowed to hear what Jackie had to say.


“Her response to a lot of questions was 'I do not remember.' It got to a point where she told us since her alleged attack, which she said occurred in 2012, she had developed post-traumatic stress disorder – that because of it now there are certain memories that are foggy,” Seal said. “She never definitely said ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to any question. She would say, ‘I believe so,’ or ‘I do not think so.’”


Jackie said she thought UVA administrator Nicole Eramo had been misrepresented in the Rolling Stone article.


“After the article’s publication, she wanted to make it clear that Miss Eramo had been misrepresented in some ways,” Seal said. “ She even said, in the weeks leading up to publication that she had some real reservations about her own participation in the article. She had originally assumed the article was about advocacy, and it seemed close to publication she realized the focal point might be more on Miss Eramo, the administration and her own assault, and she said that made her very uncomfortable.”


In spite of her reservations, Jackie said she felt pressured by reporter Sabrina Erdely to continue talking with the magazine.


Testimony continues Tuesday, with a fact checker for Rolling Stone on the stand.


Update:  Friday, Oct. 21

Testimony continues Friday in the $7.8 million lawsuit against Rolling Stone Magazine.  On the stand, reporter Sabrina Rubin-Erdely who wrote the now retracted story, 'A Rape on Campus.'

Charlottesville Daily Progress reporter Dean Seal is covering the case.  He says Thursday’s testimony focused on mistakes Erdely had made. 

“Some of them really got her choked up – especially when they found that she had actually taken some notes that had names of people that she could have contacted – potential sources that she could have used," Seal says. "Her defense for that, for the reason that she didn’t even come back to follow up with those people was that she had forgotten that their names were in the notes.” 

But Erdely insisted her criticism of the university for its failure to report campus rapes – a problem noted by federal investigators -- was legitimate.

“She said that she stands by everything that she wrote in that piece excluding anything that had come from Jackie," Seal says. "She said that the biggest mistake she made was trusting someone who was intent to deceive her.” 

Erdely had also noted names of students who might have challenged Jackie’s story, but she told the court she never followed up with them, because she forgot.

Later Friday, Erdely will answer questions posed by her own lawyer and by attorneys for Rolling Stone.

Update: Thursday, Oct. 20 


More from Daily Progress reporter Deal Seal on the Rolling Stone trial.

O'Neal: Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely took the stand Wednesday, defending herself against a $7.8 million lawsuit by former UVA administrator Nicole Eramo.  Dean Seal is covering the trial for Charlottesville’s Daily Progress.  He says Eramo and Erdely have strongly defended their work and their employers.

Seal: They both definitely brought a lot of passion to their testimony, so obviously Miss Erdely has just taken the stand, but you could kind of feel her defiance with a lot of these questions.  Later today I think we’re going to see Miss Erdely bring in a lot of that defiance that she showed yesterday in her testimony.  For her it’s not really just defending her side or Rolling Stone’s side.  It’s defending her journalistic practice, and I think that it’s not even a point of pride.  It’s something that she’s going to need to defend to move forward with her own journalism career.

O'Neal: The student known only as Jackie is not expected to take the stand, but a video deposition she gave last spring will be shown to the jury, and reporters in court will be able to hear what she had to say about her alleged rape at a University of Virginia fraternity.

Seal: They’re going to turn the TV screens facing away from the gallery, so we won’t be able to see what she looks like, but the jury will.  Do we know where she is or what has become of her?  At this point, no.  There’s still a lot of confidentiality around her.  I think for the most part that’s because it’s not very clear really if she did undergo some form of trauma, so I think attorneys on both sides don’t want to out her identity in some way, just in case there was a trauma that affected her.  That would be too much undue stress upon her.   


Original Story: Tuesday , Oct. 18

Opening statements begin Tuesday in Charlottesville in the defamation trial against Rolling Stone magazine over its now discredited 2014 story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia.

Former UVa administrator Nicole Eramo wants $7.85 million from the magazine for its portrayal of her as, what she calls, the "chief villain" in the story. 

Morning Edition host Tab O'Neal talks with Dean Seal, Crime and Courts reporter with the Daily Progress.

Interview Highlights

O'Neal: Let's take a minute and go back for a history lesson, how did this all begin? 

Seal: Everything pretty much started about two years in November 2014, when Rolling Stone published 'A Rape on Campus.' It was intended to be an expose of the culture of sexual assault on college campuses. The author of the article was Sabrina Rubin Erderly.

She had picked UVa to be the backdrop of this and the centerpiece of the story was the story of Jackie. Jackie had claimed in her first year in 2012 she had been the victim of a brutal gang rape by seven men at a fraternity house. 

After the article came out it created a firestorm of controversy here in Charlottesville and on the bigger stage. But a few weeks after it was released, portions of Jackie's story started to fall apart under scrutiny. Over the next few months there was an investigation by Charlottesville Police that found no evidence of Jackie's claims...

By April, the magazine had actually retracted the story and the following month Nicole Eramo, who at the time was a UVa administrator who was tasked with aiding student survivors of sexual assault, filed suit against the magazine, the author, and its publisher. She said she had been defamed by the claims Erderly had made in the article, that portrayed her as the chief villian of the entire piece. 

O'Neal: Jury selection was yesterday. What's happening today and over the next couple of weeks?

Seal: Yesterday (Monday), they brought in over 100 potential jurors and narrowed it down to 10. Today (Tuesday), we are finally going to dive into opening statements. That's where counsel for Eramo and counsel for Rolling Stone are both going to give the 10-person jury their side of the story, lay out what they're going to be presenting over the next 11 days... 

In addition to that, there's a lot of emotion surrounding this case ... today (Tuesday) the attorneys are going be narrowing down what needs to be focused on in this trial. It's much more narrow of a scope to talk about what specifically was said about Eramo in this piece, rather than the total impact. 

O'Neal: We may hear from Jackie during this process? 

Seal: ... I've spoken to a few trial attorneys who say it's just as likely they're going to show some live deposition video of Jackie rather than her actually showing up in person. Whether we will actually see Jackie in court is debatable, I would guess we will not. 

You can follow Daily Progress Crime and Courts reporter Dean Seal on Twitter @JDeanSeal.

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.
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