Emotional day for Nicole Eramo in court

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- It was an emotional day for former University of Virginia Dean Nicole Eramo in court Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, she cried while the jury of ten heard recorded interviews of Rolling Stone author Sabrina Erdely talking about her article, "A Rape On Campus."

Tom Clare provided the opening statements for Eramo, saying, "This is a case about journalistic failure."

Attorneys for Eramo want the jury to focus on the failures of the Rolling Stone editorial team and not on "Jackie" and her alleged rape.

Jurors were asked to focus on five key points by Eramo's team.

First, Eramo took Jackie to meet with police about her alleged attack.

Second, Rolling Stone knew about Eramo's efforts to get Jackie to report the gang rape to police.

The third point claims that Rolling Stone did not verify key facts of the story about the incident that reportedly had occurred at a UVA fraternity party.

Then, the fourth point is that Rolling Stone pushed Jackie to report the story, and then blamed her.

The final point is the adage that a picture is worth 1,000 words. This references an image of Eramo that was used in the article that she claims was edited to portray her in a defamatory way.

Clare also said Eramo is referenced 30 times by name and 10 times by title in the entire piece that was published two years ago.

Eramo's attorneys are asking that the jury find Rolling Stone defamed Eramo specifically and as a whole with the article.

Then in opening statements from the attorneys for Rolling Stone, the magazine acknowledged that using Jackie as its lead for the article was a mistake.

"Do we regret using Jackie as our lead? Yes, more than you know," said Scott Sexton, attorney for Rolling Stone. "It was a huge mistake."

He says the jurors need to decide if the article was published with "actual malice," which is a requirement for proving defamation in court.

Sexton says it wasn't. He adds that Rolling Stone and Erdely firmly believed their story was true until Dec. 5, 2014, when Erdely told her editors she has lost confidence in Jackie.

He says that of the 11 statements Eramo's attorneys claim defame their client, only four actually refer to Eramo. The others refer to UVA administration.

Finally, Sexton says the criticisms of UVA and Eramo are still valid even though Jackie's story of being assaulted was proved untrue.

He says Eramo is considered a public figure by the law, and she is therefore open to being criticized by publications like Rolling Stone.

Several audio tapes of Jackie and Erdely talking were played in court, including a voicemail Erdely left on Jackie's phone on Dec. 5, 2014.

On that tape, Erdely is heard telling Jackie that if there is any confusion or doubts, she didn't have to go to the police.

Erdely began crying in the courtroom while that tape was playing.

Eramo was called to testify Tuesday afternoon, during which she told the jury she tried to get Jackie to report the alleged gang rape, not hide it.

She said she has worked at UVA for the last 19 years, part of that time working specifically with sexual assault victims.

"I really thought it was a privilege to be with someone in a moment of great need," said Eramo.

Eramo also said Jackie was referred to her by another dean in May of 2013 for academic problems stemming from an assault.

At the time, Eramo said Jackie only told her she had been forced to give oral sex to about five guys at a frat, but she didn't know which one.

Eramo says she spoke to UVA Dead of Students Allen Groves about the allegation, and they both decided to work with Jackie in the hope of getting her to report the assault to police.

According to Eramo's testimony, it wasn't until April of 2014, when Jackie reported she had been attacked on the UVA Corner with a beer bottle, that Eramo learned Phi Psi had been identified as the frat where Jackie was allegedly assaulted.

That was also when Eramo learned of another girl claiming to have been assaulted.

Concerned it was a pattern involving the fraternity, Eramo says she tried to get the incident reported to the police.

"I wanted her to talk with UVA police and Charlottesville police to report the incident and the rape," she testified.

By May, Eramo says she and Jackie has met with police several times to notify them of the two incidents, but Jackie refused to cooperate and the investigations were suspended.

During the summer of 2014, Eramo says she was contacted by Erdely about doing an interview for a story in Rolling Stone.

Eramo says UVA told her not to do the interview, and she did not know at that time that Erdely has already been in contact with Jackie.

She testified that Rolling Stone did not contact her again.

By September, Eramo says Jackie said she was concerned about the article, and then by November, Jackie told Eramo she was worried the article would get her fired.

"The university can take care of itself. I'm a big girl, I can take care of myself," Eramo said she told Jackie at the time.

On Nov. 19, 2014, the article, "A Rape on Campus," was published.

According to Eramo's testimony, much of the gang rape depicted in the article had not been conveyed to her by Jackie.

Eramo says the backlash was immediate and negative, with protests and even death threats.

"It just seemed to be going completely viral, and I didn't know what to do," she said. "I felt along and scared."

The trial is scheduled to last two weeks. Later on, the jury will see a videotape of Jackie's deposition.

On cross, Rolling Stone established that despite Jackie's allegations, Eramo did not investigate further through students records to find out what happened.

Eramo told the jury the UVA administration decided it was better to build trust with Jackie, adding she was not an investigator.

When asked why UVA did not alert the campus about the alleged assault, Eramo said it was generally a decision that was out of her hands but that in this case there was not enough information and the incident was too far removed.

During her testimony, Eramo had to pause several times to compose herself.

She told the jury she is suing Rolling Stone for several reasons including restoring her reputation and warning journalists they cannot do "fly by journalism."

Eramo's cross-examination will finish Wednesday. Attorneys say Author Sabrina Erdely will testify next.



 
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