NEW YORK (AP) — A jury found Donald Trump liable Tuesday for sexually abusing advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in 1996, awarding her $5 million in a judgment that could haunt the former president as he campaigns to regain the White House.
The verdict was announced in a federal courtroom in New York City on the first day of jury deliberations. Jurors rejected Carroll's claims that she was raped, but found Trump liable for sexually abusing her.
Hours earlier, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan read instructions on the law to the nine-person jury before the panel began discussing Carroll's allegations of battery and defamation shortly before noon.
Trump, who did not attend the trial, has insisted he never sexually assaulted Carroll or even knew her.
Kaplan told jurors that the first question on the verdict form was to decide whether they think there is more than a 50% chance that Trump raped Carroll inside a store dressing room. If they answered yes, they would then decide whether compensatory and punitive damages should be awarded.
If they answered no on the rape question, they could then decide if Trump subjected her to lesser forms of assault involving sexual contact without her consent or forcible touching to degrade her or gratify his sexual desire. If they answered yes on either of those questions, they will decide if damages are appropriate.
On defamation claims stemming from a statement Trump made on social media last October, Kaplan said jurors needed to be guided by a higher legal standard — clear and convincing evidence.
He said they would have to agree it was "highly probable" that Trump's statement was false and was made maliciously with deliberate intent to injure or out of hatred or ill will with reckless disregard for Carroll's rights.
Meanwhile, Trump posted a new message on social media, complaining that he is now awaiting the jury's decision "on a False Accusation." He said he is "not allowed to speak or defend myself, even as hard nosed reporters scream questions about this case at me."
Trump said he will not speak until after the trial, "but will appeal the Unconstitutional silencing of me ... no matter the outcome!"
Trump never attended the trial, which is in its third week, and rejected an invitation to testify, which the judge extended through the weekend even after Trump's attorney, Joe Tacopina, said Thursday that his client would not testify.
Tacopina told the jury in closing arguments Monday that Carroll's account is too far fetched to be believed. He said she made it up to fuel sales of a 2019 memoir in which she first publicly revealed her claims and to disparage Trump for political reasons.
Carroll's attorney, Roberta Kaplan, cited excerpts from Trump's October deposition and his notorious comments on a 2005 "Access Hollywood" video in which he said celebrities can grab women between the legs without asking.
She urged jurors to believe her client.
"He didn't even bother to show up here in person," Kaplan said. She said much of what he said in his deposition and in public statements "actually supports our side of the case."
"In a very real sense, Donald Trump is a witness against himself," she said. "He knows what he did. He knows that he sexually assaulted E. Jean Carroll."
Carroll, 79, testified that she had a chance encounter with Trump at the Bergdorf Goodman store across the street from Trump Tower. She said it was a lighthearted interaction in which they teased each other about trying on a piece of lingerie before Trump became violent inside a dressing room.
Tacopina told jurors there was no reason to call Trump as a witness when Carroll can't even recall when her encounter with Trump happened.
He told the jury Carroll made up her claims after hearing about a 2012 "Law and Order" episode in which a woman is raped in the dressing room of the lingerie section of a Bergdorf Goodman store.
"They modeled their secret scheme on an episode of one of the most popular shows on television," he said of Carroll.
Two of Carroll's friends testified that she told them about the encounter with Trump shortly after it happened, many years before the "Law and Order" episode aired.