Jury deliberates in ex-Bengals cheerleader lawsuit
COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) – A jury deliberated for nearly six hours Wednesday without reaching a decision in the defamation trial of a website that published gossip about a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader.
The jury will resume deliberations Thursday, and lawyers for both sides said a verdict could impact what websites around the country publish. Former cheerleader and high school teacher Sarah Jones sued thedirty.com and its operator over posts made in 2009 on the Scottsdale, Ariz. – based website.
One post claimed she had sex with every Bengals player, and the other said she probably had two sexually transmitted diseases. She says both are false and accused website operator Nik Richie of malice.
Jones’ attorney, Eric Deters, told jurors in closing arguments Wednesday they have a chance to send a message to websites that they should be careful what they publish and “it’s not right to defame people.”
He said Richie is guilty of malice by posting submissions Richie says were anonymous. Even though Richie took the posts down months later, they will never be off the Internet, Deters said.
“He can bash her forever,” Deters said.
Richie’s attorney told jurors their decision could have a negative impact on free speech for other people and other websites.
“It’s trying to hold Nik responsible for someone else’s work,” attorney David Gingras said.
The posts were unrelated to Jones’ guilty plea last year to having sex with an underage ex-student. Gingras told jurors the lies Jones acknowledged telling involving her relationship with the teen were relevant to her credibility.
Deters said that Richie is the one on trial and jurors shouldn’t consider Jones’ actions in the criminal case.
Jones was allowed to avoid jail time with her plea, but was forbidden from teaching again. Jones, 28, still has a relationship with the now 18-year-old former student, and they have said they plan to marry.
Jurors have to determine whether the posts were false and whether Richie knew they were false or had reasonable doubts about their truthfulness when posting the submissions.
Gingras said his client had no malice toward Jones and could not know whether the posts were true or false when he posted them.
Jurors may award damages to Jones if they find in her favor.
Gingras said Jones did not suffer financial loss or medical problems from the posts and asked that the jury award a nominal amount of $1 if they were to find for her.
Deters said they are not seeking a specific amount but said Jones suffered mental anguish and a large award would send a message to Richie and others.
“Deliver justice to him,” Deters said, pointing to Richie. “Deliver mercy to her.”
A January trial in the lawsuit resulted in a hung jury.
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