COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Jurors were ordered to try again after telling a judge Thursday they couldn't reach a verdict on a defamation lawsuit filed by a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader against a gossip website that posted lewd comments about her.
U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman sent the jury home Thursday evening after several hours of deliberations and ordered them to return Friday morning. If the jurors ultimately can't agree on the lawsuit filed by former cheerleader and high school teacher Sarah Jones, the case would have to be tried again with a different jury.
The lawsuit against Scottsdale, Ariz.-based thedirty.com and its operator, Hooman Karamian, seeks $11 million. The lawsuit cites two 2009 posts on the website that said Jones had sex with every Bengals player and probably had two sexually transmitted diseases.
The posts were unrelated to Jones' subsequent guilty plea to charges that she had sex with an underage former student, though the criminal case was discussed in court this week as attorneys for the website sought to attack her character. Jones says the posts were untrue and caused her severe mental anguish.
Jones' attorney, Eric Deters, said he has a pretty good idea why the jurors can't reach a decision.
"Both parties knew that neither one represented a client that's sympathetic," he said.
In closing arguments Thursday, Deters told jurors that they had the chance to send a message with their verdict.
"You can do something big today," he told them. "You can send a message across America: We're going to stop libel and slander on the Internet."
He added that awarding Jones millions of dollars would effectively shut down thedirty.com.
"Sock it to them," he said, adding that the case is about basic humanity for his "wounded client."
Deters is arguing that the posts defamed Jones and called her reputation into question long before her relationship with the student, and that's why she's entitled to damages.
Karamian, who goes by the name Nik Richie, testified during the three-day trial that Jones is a public figure and that the posts were written by an anonymous user, not him.
In his closing argument, Alex Ward — one of Richie's attorneys — argued that the first post about Jones having sex with all the Bengals players was a clear exaggeration that no reasonable person would believe, and therefore, didn't amount to defamation. He said the second post, which said that Jones' ex-husband cheated on her with 50 women, had gonorrhea and chlamydia, and likely gave it to Jones, was merely an opinion that also did not amount to defamation.