A jury in Charlottesville, Va., found Friday that Rolling Stone magazine and its reporter defamed a school administrator over a now-debunked article about a purported gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity.
After some 20 hours of deliberation, the 10-person jury found reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely responsible for defamation with malice on six claims by Nicole Eramo, and Rolling Stone magazine and Wenner Media responsible for defaming her on three claims.
Eramo, former U.Va. dean and an associate administrator, was seeking $7.5 million in damages. The jury will now hear more evidence and determine financial reparations.
Eramo, who was in charge of the university's sexual assault program, claimed she was defamed by the magazine, its publisher and Erdely in the November 2014 article entitled "A Rape on Campus."
The story, which quickly gained widespread national attention, focused on an alleged brutal gang rape at a fraternity house and the aftermath.
Eramo claimed that the article, which was subsequently retracted, portrayed her as a villain who discouraged the purported victim, identified only as "Jackie," from reporting the incident to police. A police investigation found no evidence to back up Jackie’s claims.
In closing arguments, Tom Clare, Eramo's attorney, said Erdely set out to cast Eramo as the “villain” in the article, knowing she was an “easy target” who could not legally discuss the case.
“Once they decided what the article was going to be about, it didn’t matter what the facts were," Clare told the jury.
Rolling Stone’s attorneys denied any malice and said there was no evidence that the reporter knew what she was writing about Eramo was false or had serious doubts about whether it was true.
Following Friday's verdict, the magazine issued a statement that acknowledged it had made errors in an attempt to tackle "the very serious and complex topic of sexual assault on campus."
"In our desire to present this complicated issue from the perspective of a survivor, we overlooked reporting paths and made journalistic mistakes that we are committed to never making again," Rolling Stone said. "We deeply regret these missteps and sincerely apologize to anyone hurt by them, including Ms. Eramo."