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Ex-Bengals cheerleader testifies in libel case

Tuesday - 7/9/2013, 7:29pm  ET

FILE - In this Monday, July 30, 2012 file photo, Sarah Jones, a former Dixie Heights High School teacher and Cincinnati Ben-Gal cheerleader, arrives at the Kenton County Justice Center, in Covington, Ky. Jury selection began Monday, July 8, 2013 in federal court in Covington, Ky., in a defamation lawsuit involving a gossip website and Jones, convicted of having sex with a teenage student. (AP Photo/The Enquirer, Patrick Reddy, File) NO SALES

LISA CORNWELL
Associated Press

COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Posts on a gossip website that a former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader is suing for defamation were so devastating that she once considered suicide and wants to keep other people from being hurt the same way, she testified Tuesday.

Sarah Jones told jurors in her lawsuit retrial in Covington, Ky., that the posts were false and malicious and that the website operator "hurts people every day."

"He has gained financially off of my downfall," she said of Nik Richie, operator of thedirty.com website.

Jones is suing Richie and the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based website for damages over two 2009 posts. One alleged she had sex with every Bengals player, and the other said she probably had two sexually transmitted diseases.

Jones said that while she doesn't hate Richie, she would like to see his website shut down.

"He is hurting so many people," she said.

Richie denied any malice toward Jones and testified that he apologized to her in an email for any pain she had suffered. But Richie also said he is not required to fact-check submissions before posting them. He acknowledged that he screens submissions before posting them, but says they are anonymous.

The 2009 posts were unrelated to the former high school teacher's guilty plea last year to charges she had sex with an underage ex-student. Jones' attorney has stressed that they are only seeking damages up to Feb. 1, 2011 and urged jurors not to consider her actions after that. Jones was allowed to avoid jail time with her plea, but was forbidden from teaching again.

Jones, 28, still has a relationship with the now 18-year-old former student. They have said they plan to marry.

Richie's attorney, David Gingras, has said the case is about Jones' character and has repeatedly questioned her truthfulness. He called a police detective who investigated Jones' criminal case as his final witness before court recessed for the day.

Edgewood police Detective Julie Inman testified that Jones wasn't truthful in interviews during the investigation. Inman also said a probe of Jones' phone records found that Jones got an app that helped disguise her phone number and changed her number more than once.

Richie's attorney also questioned Jones about lies she acknowledges telling about her relationship with the ex-student and asked her about a reality show that she reportedly was considering. Jones denied that.

"It's not even in the realm of possibility," she said.

Jones cried at times Tuesday while testifying she once thought about ways to commit suicide. She also described how hurtful and damaging the posts were and said she sent 27 emails to Richie saying the posts were false and begging him to take them down.

When questioned why he didn't take the posts down until August 2010, Richie said lawyers had advised him he was protected by the Communications Decency Act, which provides immunity to website publishers from liability for content that comes from third parties.

The case is about freedom of speech, and "I'm a huge fan of the First Amendment," Richie said.

Richie also testified that he does not believe Jones slept with every Bengal player -- an assertion his attorney suggests was an exaggerated post no one would believe -- but doesn't know whether the allegation about the sexually transmitted diseases was true.

The latest trial that began Monday after a January trial resulted in a hung jury is expected to go the jury Wednesday after closing arguments.


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