Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Donald Trump loses civil rape trial, ordered to pay $5 million

Jurors took less than three hours to hand down their verdict after a fast-paced trial where the former president offered no defense case.

MANHATTAN (CN) — A jury of New Yorkers found Donald Trump liable Tuesday in a stunning end to the former president's federal trial on civil claims that he raped writer E. Jean Carroll in 1996.

Carroll says she ran into Trump at Bergdorf Goodman in spring of 1996. The two recognized each other: Trump a real estate tycoon and tabloid figure, Carroll the author of a popular advice column in Elle magazine. Trump asked Carroll to help him pick out a gift for a woman, and the two made their way up the escalators. “I know: lingerie,” Carroll remembers Trump suggesting. 

In the intimates department, Trump tossed her a sheer bodysuit and told her to try it on, Carroll says. She threw it back, joking that he ought to wear it, and the two made their way toward the fitting room. Carroll testified that Trump then pushed her against the wall, began aggressively kissing her, pulled down her tights and shoved his fingers, then his penis, inside her. 

Carroll went public with her story in 2019 while Trump was still in office. She sued three years later, empowered by a new law in the Empire State that opened a small window for adult survivors of sexual assault to seek civil relief for claims otherwise barred by the statute of limitations. In addition to battery, she alleged defamation: pointing to Trump's denial of the allegations and ensuing digs at her appearance.

The jury found Trump liable on both counts, awarding Carroll $5 million in damages. Apart from Carroll's broad smile, neither she nor her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, made any comment as they exited the courthouse Tuesday afternoon. Later both released statements on the verdict.

“I filed this lawsuit against Donald Trump to clear my name and to get my life back. Today, the world finally knows the truth," Carroll wrote (emphasis in original). "This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed."

Kaplan meanwhile praised the verdict as well as Carroll, who she said "never wavered in her strength, courage, and determination to seek justice."

"For far too long, survivors of sexual assault faced a wall of doubt and intimidation," Kaplan wrote. "We hope and believe today’s verdict will be an important step in tearing that wall down."

Upon his courthouse exit, Joseph Tacopina, Trump's attorney, said he plans to appeal. Reporters asked if he had talked to his client.

"We've spoken, and we're ready to proceed and go forward," Tacopina said. "You know, he's firm in his belief, as many people are, that you cannot get a fair trial in New York City, based on the jury pool. And I think one could argue that that's probably an accurate assessment, based on what happened here today."

Joseph Tacopina, Donald Trump's attorney, speaks to reporters outside the Manhattan federal courthouse on May 9, 2023, after jurors found Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming writer E. Jean Carroll. (Nina Pullano/Courthouse News Service)

To determine the battery count, jurors had to find that it was more likely than not that Trump had either raped, sexually abused or forcibly touched Carroll. Defamation carried a higher bar: Rather than preponderance, Carroll was required to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Trump’s October 2022 comments on his social media platform Truth Social, denying the rape and calling her story a “complete con job,” were both false and made with actual malice. 

Instructing the jury on Tuesday morning, less than three hours before they returned with a verdict, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan emphasized that the standard of reasonable doubt in criminal trials “does not apply at all in this case, and you should put it out of your mind.” 

The jury ultimately found that Carroll did not prove Trump raped Carroll, the most severe possible element, but found that he sexually abused her, and awarded Carroll $2 million in compensatory damages plus $20,000 in punitive damages. On the defamation count, Trump will have to pay $1.7 million in damages for a reputation repair program plus $1 million in other damages. Carroll's expert testified that repairing damage to her name could cost up to $2.7 million.

ADVERTISEMENT

Tacopina said it was "strange verdict," since the jury found evidence of sexual abuse but not rape, but that he was "obviously very happy that Donald Trump was not branded a rapist."

"This was a rape case all along, and the jury rejected that," Tacopina said. "So it's a little perplexing, but you know, we move forward."

Two other women who also accuse Trump of sexual assault testified at Carroll's trial, each describing a situation similar to Carroll’s, decades apart, where Trump interrupted friendly conversation by suddenly and forcefully kissing them. 

Jessica Leeds, a retired businesswoman, said Trump tried to put his hand up her skirt in what turned into a “tussle” on an airplane in 1979 or 1980. And Natasha Stoynoff, a journalist who used to work the “Trump beat” at People magazine, said Trump brought her to a room during a 2005 interview at Mar-a-Lago where he pushed her against a wall and began kissing her. Stoynoff testified that Trump then said to her, “You know we’re going to have an affair don’t you?” When she returned from the trip, Stoynoff asked to be taken off the beat. 

This 1987 photograph of E. Jean Carroll and Donald Trump appears in Carroll's civil defamation suit against Trump to rebuff his claims that he could not have raped her because he never met her. (Image via Courthouse News)

Both Leeds and Stoynoff decided to speak publicly in 2016 after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape circulated, featuring Trump in a hot-mic recording, boasting about going after women without their consent: “I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you've a star they let you do it. … You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy.”

Trump defended that take in the videotaped deposition shown to the jury

“Well historically that's true with stars,” Trump says in the recording. “If you look over the last million years, I guess that’s been largely true. Not always but largely true. Unfortunately or fortunately.” 

Carroll’s attorney with the firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink seized on those words in her summation Monday.

“Unfortunately or fortunately? He actually said the word 'fortunately' to describe stars grabbing women. Let that sink in for a minute,” Kaplan said. “Who would say 'fortunately' to describe the act of sexual assault?”

Jurors heard from Trump only in his deposition, since he did not testify, nor did he call any witnesses. The tape shows Trump calling Carroll a “wack job” and accusing her and her attorney of being political operatives. In a moment that Kaplan cast as being damning for Trump, he looked at a photo from an event in 1987 showing himself, Carroll, and their respective spouses at the time. Despite claiming repeatedly in recent years that Carroll was “not my type,” Trump mistook her in the photo for his second wife, Marla Maples. 

Trump agreed when Carroll's lawyer asked him at the deposition, “I take it the three women you’ve married are all your type?”

“E. Jean Carroll, a former cheerleader and Miss Indiana, was exactly Donald Trump’s type,” Kaplan said in her closing argument.

During his summation Trump’s attorney gave jurors a rundown of what he argued was inconsistent or implausible about Carroll’s case, including her account that there were no sales associates in the high-end store known for its customer service; that she didn’t file a police report or write about the incident in her diary; and that she had both a political and financial motive to sell the story, which she detailed in a 2019 book “What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal.” 

“They hope you will be blinded by the hatred for Donald Trump, if you feel that way,” Tacopina said.

Follow @NinaPullano
Categories / Civil Rights, Entertainment, Media, Trials

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.

Loading...