CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — The author of the discredited Rolling Stone magazine article about a woman’s claim of being gang raped at a fraternity house sought to show jurors Friday why she found the woman so credible, highlighting the emotion and level of detail with which she spoke during their interactions.
Rolling Stone is on trial for Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s 2014 story “A Rape on Campus,” which tells the harrowing story of a woman identified only as “Jackie,” who claimed she was brutally gang raped by seven men at the University of Virginia. A police investigation later found no evidence to back up Jackie’s claims.
Rolling Stone’s attorneys played jurors more than two hours of an audio recording of an interview between Erdely and “Jackie” in September 2014.
During the interview, Jackie discussed a tattoo she had gotten — that she later showed Erdely — which included the word, “unbreakable,” to demonstrate resolve in dealing with what she said had happened. Scott Sexton, an attorney for Rolling Stone, asked Erdely if it ever occurred to her that someone would get a tattoo to commemorate something that never occurred.
“Never,” Erdely said.
In the interview, Jackie sounds bubbly and outgoing and eager to tell her story. She hesitated only when Erdely said she wanted to publish the name of the fraternity where Jackie claimed her assault occurred— Phi Kappa Psi — because Jackie said she’s was concerned for her safety. Jackie and Erdely appear to have quickly developed a close bond, with Erdely sharing in Jackie’s excitement over her new boyfriend and trying to convince Jackie to seek treatment over her possible post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I felt as though we really had developed a trusting and caring relationship,” Erdely said.
Erdely, of Philadelphia, noted how Jackie spoke with great detail, like when she recounted the nightmares she had in the wake of the attack and described one of the other women she claimed had been assaulted at the fraternity as having a raspy voice, small nose and serious demeanor.
“It seemed impossible to imagine that she was not describing a real person,” Erdely said.
University administrator Nicole Eramo is seeking $7.8 million from the magazine, claiming the article made her its “chief villain.” Because the judge ruled Eramo should be considered a public figure, her attorneys have to prove that Rolling Stone that they knew what they were writing about Eramo was false or at least should have known it wasn’t true.
Eramo’s attorneys have argued Erdely had doubts about Jackie’s credibility but pushed forward anyway and consciously chose not to contact certain sources she believed would blow up the story, including the man who Jackie said orchestrated her attack. They’ve also said it was irresponsible for Erdely to rely heavily on a source that possibly had PTSD and was taking antidepressants.
Erdely dismissed that idea on Friday.
“Just because someone is suffering from depression or PTSD, it doesn’t make them any less reliable,” she said.
The trial, which started on Monday, is supposed to extend through next week. Eramo’s lawsuit is one of three filed against the magazine over the story. A judge earlier this year threw out a case brought by three fraternity members, but a $25 million lawsuit filed by the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the university is scheduled to go to trial late next year.