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Verdict reached in Rolling Stone defamation lawsuit

Last Updated Nov 4, 2016 2:58 PM EDT

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va --  A jury found writer Sabrina Erdely and Rolling Stone liable on multiple claims in a defamation suit based on a gang rape story the magazine later retracted.

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University of Virginia administrator Nicole Eramo leaves federal court after closing arguments in her defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone magazine in Charlottesville, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. Eramo is seeking $7.5 million from the magazine over its portrayal of her in the 2014 story by Sabrina Rubin Erdely. 

AP Photo/Steve Helber

The 10-member jury found journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely was responsible for libel, with actual malice. Jurors also said Rolling Stone and its publisher were responsible for defaming University of Virginia administrator Nicole Eramo.

Eramo was seeking $7.5 million from the magazine over its portrayal of her in the 2014 story by Sabrina Rubin Erdely about the alleged sexual assault of a woman identified only as “Jackie.” Eramo claimed she was unfairly portrayed in the article as trying to sweep Jackie’s sexual assault under the rug in order to protect the university.

Among the statements in the article that Eramo claimed were defamatory was one in which she is quoted - through Jackie - as saying that the university doesn’t publish all of its statistics about sexual assault because “nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school.” Eramo says that was fabricated by Jackie.

Following the verdict against Rolling Stone, the judge in the case is meeting with lawyers to discuss when they will start the damages phase of the trial. Eramo originally requested $350,00 in punitive damages and $7.5 million in compensatory damages. They dropped the punitive claim during the middle of the trial. 

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Rolling Stone contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely, front, and Rolling Stone magazine Deputy Managing Editor Sean Woods, right, walk with their legal team to federal court in Charlottesville, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. University of Virginia administrator Nicole Eramo is seeking $7.5 million from the magazine over its portrayal of her in a 2014 story written by Rubin Erdely. Closing arguments in the case are continuing.

AP Photo/Steve Helber

Eramo had to prove that Rolling Stone statements about her made her appear “odious, infamous or ridiculous” and that the magazine acted with “actual malice,” meaning it knew that what it was writing about her was false or should have known it was false.

The story about Jackie’s rape set off a firestorm at the University of Virginia and in schools nationwide and prompted police to launch an investigation into the alleged assault. Eramo received hundreds of angry letters and emails and faced protesters outside her office. The story crumbled after other news outlets began asking questions and police found no evidence to back up Jackie’s claims. The article was officially retracted in April 2015.

Attorneys for Eramo argued that the author had a preconceived notion  about the story she wanted to write and ignored any evidence or elements that did not fit the narrative she wanted to tell.

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Image of the original Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus” 

Attorneys for the magazine argued that everyone who came across Jackie believed her story, and that they had no doubts about the veracity of her account until after the article was already in print.

Over the course of the more than two-week trial, the 10 jurors watched 11 hours of video testimony, heard from a dozen live witnesses and examined nearly 300 exhibits.