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Trial begins over Rolling Stone ‘rape on campus’ story

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The author of the discredited 2014 Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus” wiped away tears as it was read to jurors in a defamation trial against her, the magazine and its publisher.

The jury of 10, which took six hours to seat, listened Monday for nearly an hour and a half as the 9,000 word article was presented.

Sabrina Rubin Erdely authored the magazine’s discredited November 2014 article about an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia frat house and how it portrayed UVA administrator Nicole Eramo.

Eramo, who brought on the lawsuit says, the story painted her as callous and insensitive to the plight of an alleged rape victim.

Eramo, who was serving as associate dean of students at the time of the article, is seeking $7.85 million. In an interview that aired Friday on ABC News, she said the story changed her life.

"I'm never going to be where I was on November 18 of 2014," Eramo said, referring to the day before it was published. "But I can hopefully recognize that person again."

Rolling Stone declined to be a part of the ABC News story. Attorneys say they want to be heard in court.

“We’re pleased to have a jury selected we’re pleased to get the full facts out there for the first time because we have been largely not in the media so this is the venue that we expect the real facts to come out and both sides of the story,” said defense attorney Scott Sexton.

The article, centered around the allegations of a UVA student identified only as "Jackie," who recounted a vicious gang rape that she said took place at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. The article was met with shock and disgust nationwide.

After it was published, UVA suspended all fraternities.

But the story soon unraveled as questions about Jackie's claims mounted. Journalists and readers were stunned to learn that Erdely did not contact any of the accused rapists.

A subsequent investigation by Charlottesville police found no evidence that the rape ever happened, and Rolling Stone later retracted the story after a review by Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism identified significant problems in Erdely's reporting and the magazine's fact-checking.

Eramo filed her lawsuit against Erdely, Rolling Stone and the magazine's publisher, Wenner Media. In a statement, Rolling Stone acknowledged the mistakes in its reporting, but said it looks forward "to telling the jury the full story."

"As this trial begins, it's important to remember that Rolling Stone and our reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely firmly believed in the credibility of Jackie, as did UVA and Dean Eramo, when the Article was published," the statement said. "We made journalistic mistakes with respect to Jackie's story, and we have learned from them. Up until now, only one side of the story has been presented."

Jurors will hear from “Jackie” via video deposition.

Day one of the 12 day trial ended with recordings of media interviews with Erdely after the article was published. The prosecution is laying out their case that Eramo was cast as being an unsympathetic administrator.

Opening arguments begin Tuesday at 8 a.m.

Rolling Stone is facing another lawsuit over the story, one brought by Phi Kappa Psi. The trial in that case is slated to begin next year.

Rolling Stone released the following statement:

"Rolling Stone did not set out to defame Dean Eramo.  As the jury heard in the Article, read out loud today, Dean Eramo was “beloved by students,” “surely has among the most difficult jobs at UVA,” was “[lauded] as … best advocate and den mother,” and was “a friend and confidante” to survivors. The Article’s portrayal of Dean Eramo was balanced and described the challenges of her role."

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