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A jury finds Trump liable for battery and defamation in E. Jean Carroll trial

E. Jean Carroll (center) departs the Manhattan courthouse where a jury awarded her $5 million after finding former President Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing her in the mid-1990s.
Seth Wenig
/
AP
E. Jean Carroll (center) departs the Manhattan courthouse where a jury awarded her $5 million after finding former President Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing her in the mid-1990s.

Updated May 9, 2023 at 5:49 PM ET

NEW YORK — A federal jury has found former President Donald Trump liable for battery and defamation in the lawsuit brought by writer E. Jean Carroll, who says he raped her in a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s.

The nine jurors, who deliberated for barely three hours before reaching their unanimous conclusion, did not find that Trump raped Carroll. But they agreed that he "sexually abused" her and that he defamed her when he denied her story.

Carroll was awarded $5 million in total damages for both claims.

"Today, the world finally knows the truth. This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed," Carroll said in a statement.

In an email to NPR, a lawyer representing Trump said the former president would appeal the decision.

Over the course of two weeks in a federal courtroom in New York City, jurors heard Carroll's story of a flirty-turned-violent encounter with Trump at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in the mid-1990s, at a time when her career as a writer and advice columnist was at its peak.

Carroll testified the incident left her unable to form romantic relationships and that her career suffered after she made her allegation public.

In 2019, she sued Trump for defamation over his denial of her claim. That lawsuit has been hung up in federal court over the question of whether Trump could be sued for a statement he made while president.

She filed a second lawsuit in 2022, this time adding a battery claim, after the state of New York temporarily removed the statute of limitations for sexual assault survivors.

Trump did not appear in court. He has consistently denied Carroll's claims and continued to do so Tuesday after the jury's decision. "I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHO THIS WOMAN IS. THIS VERDICT IS A DISGRACE - A CONTINUATION OF THE GREATEST WITCH HUNT OF ALL TIME!" he wrote on Truth Social. Later, he added, "VERY UNFAIR TRIAL!"

After the verdict was read, Carroll left the courthouse accompanied by her lawyer Roberta Kaplan, who said, "We're very happy." Carroll did not speak to reporters, but she smiled as she departed.

As a civil trial, the burden of proof for the battery claim was lower than in a criminal proceeding. Rather than be certain "beyond a reasonable doubt," as criminal trials require, Carroll needed to prove her case "by a preponderance of the evidence" — in other words, the jurors needed only to believe Carroll's version of events was more likely true than not.

In New York, a civil claim of battery may encompass a wide range of unwanted physical contact. In addition to asking whether Trump "raped" Carroll, the jury was asked to consider whether he "sexually abused" her or "forcibly touched" her.

"Anything from a gentle but unwanted peck on the cheek to stabbing somebody with a knife could be battery for purposes of a civil case like this one," U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan told jurors at the start of the trial.

In finding Trump liable for battery, the jury awarded Carroll $2 million in compensatory damages, along with $20,000 in punitive damages. For the defamation claim, the jury awarded her $2.7 million in compensatory damages and an additional $280,000 for punitive damages, finding that Trump had acted "maliciously, out of hatred, ill will, spite or wanton, reckless, or willful disregard of the rights of another" when he accused her of inventing the story.

Over three days on the witness stand, Carroll described the alleged incident in detail. Their meeting was a chance encounter, she said — the two recognized each other, and Trump invited her to help him shop for a gift for another woman.

At first, she felt "delighted" and "enchanted" to be shopping with Trump, Carroll testified. The two flirted.

But when they reached the dressing room, he restrained her and forced his fingers inside of her before pulling down her pants and raping her, she testified. She said she escaped after kneeing him and running away. At the time, she told two friends about the attack, she said. She did not file a police report.

Carroll made her claim public in 2019 when she published her memoir, What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal. Trump repeatedly denied the claims — including, famously, calling Carroll "not my type" — and he accused her of making up the story in order to sell more books. After she went public, she was fired by Elle magazine.

"I am here because Donald Trump raped me, and when I wrote about it, he said it didn't happen," Carroll said on the stand. "He lied and shattered my reputation, and I am here to try to get my life back."

At times during her testimony, she grew emotional, her voice shaking. "I have regretted this about a hundred times, but in the end, in the end, being able to get my day in court finally is everything to me, so I'm happy," she said.

In the trial's second week, jurors heard from two friends who testified that Carroll had told them about the attack shortly after it happened. Carroll's lawyers also questioned two other women who had separately accused Trump of sexual assault, in an attempt to demonstrate a pattern of predatory behavior.

Trump did not testify in his own defense. (Mike Ferrara, an attorney representing Carroll, seized on that, telling jurors during closing arguments that Trump's lawyers had concluded it "would hurt their case if they did.") And his defense team called no witnesses.

Instead, his lawyers worked to sow doubt in Carroll's story.

Led by defense attorney Joe Tacopina, they targeted Carroll's inability to recall the precise date — or even the year — of the alleged encounter. That made it impossible for Trump to defend himself, he said.

"Give me a date. November of 1995? November 7? April 3 of 1996? Sure. There's calendars. There's schedules. There's appointments. We could see where he was," Tacopina said during closing arguments Monday. "But of course, with no date, no month, no year, can't present an alibi. Can't call witnesses."

They also questioned why she chose not to contact police after the incident, and why she later described her life as "fabulous" in spite of her claimed emotional distress. It was more plausible, Tacopina argued, that Carroll and her friends had "colluded" to advance a false story because they "hated Donald Trump with a passion."

Ultimately, the jury disagreed, in a verdict Tacopina called "perplexing."

"They rejected her rape claim, and she'd always claimed this was a rape case," he said, speaking to reporters outside the courthouse. "Part of me was obviously very happy that Donald Trump was not branded a rapist."

Tacopina repeated Trump's belief that it was not possible for the former president to receive a "fair trial" in New York City, where he won just 23% of the vote in the 2020 presidential election.

The Carroll trial was one of a number of legal proceedings involving the former president amid his campaign for the 2024 presidential election.

Trump faces criminal charges in New York state over hush money payments made to a porn actress, a civil trial in New York that alleges a decades-long pattern of fraud by Trump and his business, the possibility of charges in Georgia and a pair of investigations by Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith into Trump's handling of classified documents and his efforts to undo the 2020 election.

Andrea Bernstein, Ilya Marritz, Quil Lawrence reported from New York City and Becky Sullivan reported from Washington, D.C. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
Andrea Bernstein
Ilya Marritz
Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.