Jury orders Trump to pay $83 mn for sex assault defamation

Former US president and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump leaves the opening of his campaign headquaters in Manchester, New Hampshire, US, on 27 June, 2023Reuters file photo

A jury in New York ordered former US president and 2024 candidate Donald Trump on Friday to pay $83.3 million to compensate the writer E Jean Carroll whom he was found to have sexually assaulted and defamed.

The civil order, which prompted an audible gasp in the federal court, far exceeds the more than $10 million in damages for defamation that Carroll had sought.

Trump lashed out almost immediately, calling the verdict "ridiculous" in a statement and promising to appeal.

The jury reached its decision after slightly less than three hours of deliberations.

Trump had been in court earlier, storming out at one point but subsequently returning for closing arguments. He was not in court when the level of compensatory and punitive damages was read out by a court clerk.

A juror exchanged a smile with Carroll as the nine men and women left the courtroom after the judge encouraged them to protect their privacy.

"It's clear to me... you paid attention," Judge Lewis Kaplan told the jury following the verdict.

The order was comprised of $65 million in punitive damages after the jury found Trump acted maliciously in his many public comments about Carroll, $7.3 million in compensatory damages, and $11 million for a reputational repair program.

"I was not surprised (by the award) partly because his egregious misbehavior during the trial could actually have alienated the jury," said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

"(Trump) is unlikely to prevail on appeal, because the (appeal) judges have great respect for Judge Kaplan, who is a very experienced federal jurist."

Trump -- whom a jury found liable for sexually assaulting Carroll in a separate federal civil case in New York -- used his Truth Social platform to fire off a spate of insulting messages attacking Carroll, the trial, and the judge, whom he called "an extremely abusive individual."

"We were stripped of every defense -- every single defense -- before we walked in there," said Trump's lawyer Alina Habba outside the court. "I am proud to stand with president Trump... We will immediately appeal."

Trump, 77, briefly took the stand on Thursday to deny he instructed anyone to harm Carroll with his statements.

Claims of witch hunt

During Trump's testimony, Kaplan limited him to three questions from his lawyers, to which he could only answer yes or no -- a precaution taken to prevent the Republican leader from returning to his custom of disparaging the court or Carroll in public.

"This is not America," Trump said as he left the courtroom following his short appearance.

He was not required to attend the trial or to testify. However, he has used the case, as well as others he faces, to generate heated media coverage and to fuel his claims of being victimized as he campaigns for a return to the White House in November's election.

Trump separately faces multiple criminal cases, including his alleged attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election, which he lost to Joe Biden, and a civil business fraud case.

Habba sought to have the case thrown out Thursday on the grounds that threatening messages targeting Carroll, which have been aired in the case, began on social media before Trump's 2019 comments. Her request was denied.

Jurors were shown Trump's October 2022 deposition during which he confused a picture of Carroll for his former wife Marla Maples, which threatened to cast doubt on his claim Carroll was not his "type."

Last year, another federal jury found Trump liable for sexually assaulting Carroll in a department store dressing room in 1996 and subsequently defaming her in 2022, when he called her a "complete con job."

Trump had been in court while he campaigned ahead of the New Hampshire primary, which he won handily over his only remaining challenger Nikki Haley, as he closes in on becoming the Republican candidate in the November election against Biden.