By Larry Neumeister and Jake Offenhartz | Associated Press
NEW YORK — A jury began deliberations Friday in the defamation trial against former President Donald Trump, deciding whether he owes writer E. Jean Carroll additional millions after a jury last year concluded that he sexually abused her in 1996.
The jury began its work after closing arguments punctuated by Trump’s dramatic exit from the courtroom as one of Carroll’s lawyers spoke.
He later returned as his lawyer defended him over statements he made while president in June 2019, and he remained until deliberations began.
Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, asked jurors to award $24 million in compensatory damages and much more in punitive damages.
Trump’s attorney, Alina Habba, said Trump told the truth when he refuted her claims, and she said Carroll has more fame and is better poised for success because of her accusations against Trump.
Kaplan was only a few minutes into a closing that lasted more than an hour in Manhattan federal court when Trump suddenly rose from his seat at the defense table and walked toward the exit, pausing to scan the packed courtroom as members of the Secret Service leaped up to follow him out.
The unexpected departure prompted Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who is unrelated to Carroll’s attorney, to speak up, briefly interrupting the closing argument to note: “The record will reflect that Mr. Trump just rose and walked out of the courtroom.”
The walkout came only minutes after the judge, without the jury present, threatened to send Habba to jail for continuing to talk when he told her to stop.
“You are on the verge of spending some time in the lockup. Now sit down,” the judge told Habba, who immediately complied.
Trump, who was not required to attend the civil lawsuit proceedings, had appeared agitated all morning, vigorously shaking his head as Carroll’s attorney branded him a liar who had incited a “social media mob” to attack her client.
“This case is about punishing Donald Trump for what he’s done and what he continues to do,” Roberta Kaplan continued. “This trial is about getting him to stop.”
Later, Trump returned to the courtroom to hear Habba argue that he should not be made to pay Carroll for comments that set off hate messages from strangers.
Habba showed the jury a video in which Trump said a jury’s verdict last year finding that he had sexually abused Carroll was “a disgrace” and “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time.”
“You know why he has not wavered?” Habba asked the jury. “Because it’s the truth.”
That statement prompted an objection that the judge sustained with a warning that “if you violate my instructions again, Ms. Habba, you may have consequences.”
Habba told jurors that Carroll’s once-thriving career was in a slump and her pay as a gossip columnist at Elle magazine had been reduced to $60,000 when she chose to reveal her claims against Trump, winning a level of fame and riches she hadn’t seen before.
“She’s living the life of the rich and famous,” Habba said.
Roberta Kaplan warned jurors not to adopt the defense argument that Carroll would not face online threats if she had chosen not to make claims against Trump.
“Donald Trump is not the victim here,” she said.
The judge later instructed nine jurors that they are only to decide what Trump owes, if anything, to Carroll after a different jury last May awarded her $5 million.
The final remarks from the lawyers come a day after Trump managed to sneak past a federal judge’s rules severely limiting what he could say during his turn on the witness stand, which wound up lasting just 3 minutes. He left fuming that he hadn’t been given an opportunity to refute Carroll’s sexual abuse accusations.
“She said something that I considered to be a false accusation,” Trump said, later adding: “I just wanted to defend myself, my family and, frankly, the presidency.” The jury was told by the judge to disregard both remarks.
The jury last May concluded that Trump sexually abused Carroll in the spring of 1996 in the changing room of a luxury Manhattan department store. It also found that he defamed her in 2022 by claiming she made up the allegation to sell a memoir.
Trump, the Republican frontrunner in this year’s presidential election, has long regretted his decision not to testify at that trial, blaming his lawyers for bad advice.
During her closing, Roberta Kaplan told jurors that the current case was not about a sexual assault.
“We had that case,” she said, referencing the first trial. “That’s why Donald Trump’s testimony was so short yesterday. He doesn’t get a do-over this time.”
As she finished her argument, the lawyer urged jurors to support “the principle that the rule of law stands for all of us” by sending an unmistakable message to a man who “time and time again has shown contempt for the law.”
She said the jury should award $12 million to repair Carroll’s reputation and another $12 million for the suffering she has endured because of Trump’s attacks. Then, she said an “unusually high punitive award” was also necessary against a man worth billions of dollars “to have any hope of stopping Donald Trump.”
The jury in this new trial has been told they must accept last year’s verdict.
Habba has argued against damages, saying Carroll’s association with Trump had given her the fame she craved and that death threats she received cannot be blamed on Trump’s remarks.
Carroll, 80, testified at last year’s trial that she had a chance encounter with Trump at a Bergdorf Goodman store that was flirtatious and lighthearted until Trump cornered her in a changing room. Her claim that Trump raped her was rejected by last year’s jury, though it agreed she was sexually abused.
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Last week, Carroll testified that her career was shattered by Trump’s statements about her claims over the last five years, most recently on the campaign trail for president. She said she bought bullets for a gun she inherited from her father and installed an electronic fence around her home.
On Thursday, Trump testified that he stood “100%” behind comments he made in an October 2002 deposition in which he denied Carroll’s accusations, calling her “sick” and a “whack job.”
Kaplan intends to instruct jurors Friday that the jury last year concluded that Trump had digitally penetrated Carroll in the department store, but the same jury did not find that he had raped her, according to how rape is defined under New York state law.
The Associated Press typically does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Carroll has done.