Two friends of “Jackie”—the University of Virginia student who may have falsely recounted a brutal gang rape in a 2014 Rolling Stone magazine article—said in federal court this week that they believe the story’s author, Sabrina Erdely, acted in good faith when reporting the story.
“I understand what it’s like to be lied to by Jackie,” Kathryn Hendley, known as “Cindy” in the now-retracted article, “A Rape on Campus,” said in a video deposition played on Tuesday, the eighth day of former UVA dean Nicole Eramo’s defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone. The suit claims that the magazine intentionally smeared Eramo as uncaring and indifferent to rape survivors on campus at a time when she was in charge of the school’s sexual assault prevention program.
Eramo’s attorneys, who did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast, have to prove that Erdely and Rolling Stone acted with “actual malice,” meaning that they either knew what they were printing about Eramo was false or should have known it was false.
On Wednesday, the court heard the testimonies of UVA’s dean of students, Allen Groves, and of Alexandria Pinkleton, a student activist who helped Erdely with the article and who was quoted in her story. In previous court filings, Eramo’s attorney quoted a deposition given by Pinkleton saying Erdely “basically admitted… she should have completely rewritten [the story] and regrets that she didn’t” when the two spoke the day Rolling Stone apologized for factual errors in the piece.
In court this week, Pinkleton reportedly testified that she was “very upset” by how Erdely portrayed her in the story and that she participated because she wanted to effect change around campus sexual assault at UVA. Eramo, she said, was “not a barrier to change.”
Groves reportedly said he was frustrated by Jackie’s refusal to name her alleged attackers at a UVA fraternity and that he had every intention of “putting these people in jail and shutting down the frat.”
A $25 million defamation suit filed against Rolling Stone by Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity where Jackie alleged she was assaulted, is scheduled to go to trial next year.
Prior to Wednesday’s testimony, a number of witnesses—including Jackie herself—suggested that Erdely did not act with actual malice.
In her video deposition on Tuesday, Kathryn Hendley said that when she finally spoke to Erdely, who contacted her a week after Rolling Stone issued an apology, she felt sorry for the reporter.
Jackie’s other friend Ryan Duffin, who was named “Randall” in the story, also sympathized with Erdely, who he said was “very genuinely apologetic” for failing to contact both him and Hendley before publishing the article, according to local reports from the trial.
He also said Erdely acted in good faith when she wrote the article, based on the information she had.
Erdely herself testified last week that she didn’t contact any of the “three friends” frequently referenced in the story because Jackie asked her not to do so, with Jackie stressing that Duffin had “declined on the strongest possible terms” to speak with her. Erdely also admitted it “was a mistake to rely on someone who was intent to deceive me.”
During her video deposition, Hendley said none of the quotes attributed to her in Erdely’s story were true and that reading parts of the article where she was named “Cindy”—a “self-described hookup queen” who, according the article, told Jackie she would be “the girl who cried rape” if Jackie reported her alleged assault to authorities—was like reading a “fictionalized version of [her] life.”
Hendley said Jackie never told her she was assaulted on the night of Sept. 28, 2012, and that she didn’t understand why she’d told two other friends in their close circle, Duffin and Alex Stock, instead.
Hendley claimed she was no longer friends with Jackie by the end of the next semester. When she read the Rolling Stone article in 2014, she said it was “shocking” to see Jackie’s allegations written up as a national news story—in part because the story’s version of events were markedly different from what Duffin and Stock recalled from the night of Jackie’s alleged assault.
In his deposition, Duffin said Jackie called him on the night of Sept. 28, 2012, and asked that he meet her near UVA’s freshman dorms—roughly a mile away from the Phi Kappa Psi house where the Rolling Stone article said Jackie’s best friends “Randall,” “Cindy,” and “Andy” met her after she was allegedly gang raped—because “something” had happened.
When he arrived at the dorms, Duffin said Jackie “seemed a little shaken” but not physically battered or otherwise harmed, contrary to the dramatic and bloody scene in the article.
Duffin said Jackie told him and Stock that she’d been on a date with “Haven Monahan,” whom they’d never met and knew only from Jackie. She'd previously said he was a junior on campus who was trying to court her. On September 12, Jackie told Duffin and Stock that she’d gone with him to his room at the Phi Kappa Psi house, where five men forced her to give them oral sex.
Duffin said in his deposition that he and Stock encouraged Jackie to contact police but that she refused. The quotes in the article attributed to her friends and the description of them discussing the “social price” of reporting her rape were all false, he said. Jackie’s claim to Erdely that he had refused to speak to the journalist was also false, Duffin said.
Indeed, Jackie’s account to her friends differed vastly from the sensational Rolling Stone story, which described how “seven men took turns raping her” while her date “Drew” (aka “Haven Monahan”) and another man egged them on; how one man had “barreled into her” when she first walked into the room, “sending them both crashing through a low glass table”; how another man was “on top of her, spreading her thighs, and another person kneeling on her hair, hands pinning down her arms, sharp shards digging into her back”; how the last thing she remembered was being penetrated by a beer bottle.
Duffin said in his deposition that, before the alleged assault, Jackie had encouraged him and Stock to exchange text messages with “Haven Monahan.”
“It felt kind of weird, but we saw it as a strange way to help out a friend,” Duffin said, adding that it became clear to him in the weeks following Jackie’s alleged assault that she'd invented Monahan as part of a “catfishing” scheme to win Duffin over romantically. (Two days after the alleged attack, Jackie told Duffin that Monahan had apologized for what happened and that she’d forgiven him.)
Eramo’s attorneys have also referenced the scheme and cited messages exchanged between Duffin and Monahan (PDF) in court filings, calling Monahan a “fake suitor” fabricated by Jackie “in a strange bid to earn the affections of [Duffin].”
When Duffin confronted Jackie shortly after the alleged assault about inventing Monahan, she denied it and accused Duffin of calling her a liar, according to their text messages. Duffin broke off their friendship and didn’t communicate with her again until after the Rolling Stone story came out. “Why did you tell us before the date happened that his name was…Haven Monahan?” he asked Jackie in a text message. “A name that belongs to no UVA student ever? Why has the name changed since then?”
Jackie’s response was convoluted: His last name was Monahan, she said, and “he called himself Haven,” she wrote in their final text exchanges. “His first name was John or jake or something.” She claimed he was “there that night but he was a bystander. He wasn’t involved. Not really.”
A fact-checker who worked with Erdely on the Rolling Stone story (and had worked with the magazine since 2010) also testified on Tuesday “about the 80 hours she spent fact checking the article, confirming details through countless sources and documents,” Rolling Stone said in a statement to The Daily Beast, adding: “In more than 4 hours of fact checking conversations with Ms. [Elisabeth] Garber-Paul and over 20 hours of interviews with Sabrina Rubin Erdely, ‘Jackie’ told the exact same account of her sexual assault.”
On Monday, the court heard a recorded deposition from Jackie, who occasionally contradicted herself in her own testimony, according to The Washington Post.
At one point she suggested that the Rolling Stone story was inaccurate—that she felt like “my interpretation was different than what was written” and recalled reading the story and “thinking I probably would not have written it that way.”
Later, she said the story was accurate: “I stand by the account I gave Rolling Stone and I believed it to be true at the time.”
Asked whether she still believed her story to be true, Jackie said she had memory issues as a result of trauma from her alleged assault (“I believed it was true but some details of my assault—I have PTSD and it’s foggy”).
When asked in the deposition about allegedly inventing evidence to support her accusations—like fake text messages from other women who, she claimed, were also sexually assaulted at the same fraternity—Jackie responded: “I just don’t remember any of this. It’s all very foggy. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
She claimed she didn’t remember whether she told Erdely that she was bloody when she left the fraternity house, and likened Erdely’s attempts to identify her alleged assailant to a “witch hunt.”
Yet she also said she thought that Erdely had “done her best to recount what I’d told her” in the story and that she “felt bad” about how Eramo and her friends were portrayed in it.
She said she “wouldn’t use the word indifferent at all” to describe Eramo and, contrary to what the article suggested (“If Dean Eramo was surprised at Jackie’s story of gang rape, it didn’t show”), believed Eramo “cared very much” about sexual assault and rape survivors.
The trial is expected to continue through the end of the week.