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NPR News

Jury begins deliberations in Roy Moore defamation case

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, left, and his attorney Julian McPhillips leave the courtroom in the Montgomery County Courthouse in Montgomery, Ala., on Jan. 24 following jury selection.
Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser
/
via AP
Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, left, and his attorney Julian McPhillips leave the courtroom in the Montgomery County Courthouse in Montgomery, Ala., on Jan. 24 following jury selection.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Jurors began deliberating Tuesday on dueling defamation claims filed by former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore and a woman who accused him of sexually molesting her decades ago when she was 14.

An attorney for Leigh Corfman, whose account was first published by The Washington Post in 2017, told jurors in closing arguments that the case is ultimately about who they believe is telling the truth.

"Who do you believe? Do you believe Leigh Corfman or do you believe Roy Moore?" attorney Jeff Doss asked.

Corfman maintains that Moore sexually touched her in 1979 when she was a teen and he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. Corfman filed suit alleging Moore defamed her by branding her a liar when he denied the accusations. Moore countersued, claiming Corfman injured his reputation with false allegations meant to hurt him politically.

Jurors will decide both claims at the trial. After meeting for about an hour, the jury asked to break for the day and view videos in evidence when they return Wednesday. The judge said they could. The panel did not indicate what videos they wanted to see.

Moore attorney Julian McPhillips told jurors that the accusations, raised during the 2017 Senate race in Alabama, "put Mr. Moore and his family through holy hell."

"She couldn't have hurt Roy Moore more if she had shot him with a gun, shot him through the heart," McPhillips said of Corfman.

Corfman said she met Moore at the Gadsden courthouse when he offered to sit with her while her parents were in a custody hearing. She said he asked for her telephone number and twice brought her to his home. On one occasion, she said, he took off her clothes and touched her over her bra and panties.

Moore testified that the accusation was false and denied that he knew Corfman.

Attorneys in closing arguments gave diverging views about the truth and who was damaged in the wake of the accusation that rocked the Senate race.

"Your verdict will send a powerful message to Roy Moore that the truth still matters," Doss said.

Melody Eagan, another of Corfman's attorneys, said Moore victimized Corfman twice: once in 1979 and again in 2017 when he "drug her good name through the mud."

Moore's attorneys asked jurors to find that Corfman defamed the former Alabama judge with the accusation that seemingly brought an end to his political career and led to national scorn. McPhillips suggested the accusation was the product of either teenage imagination or politics. Moore is asking the jury to award him monetary damages.

"If there was any truth to this or any motive that was good or decent, it would have come out long before — long before 32 days before an election," McPhillips said.

Corfman's attorneys told jurors her account is corroborated by other testimony.

Two childhood friends testified during the trial that Corfman as a young teen told then she was seeing an older, adult man and one said she named Moore. Corfman's mother and an attorney testified that Moore sat with Corfman outside a 1979 custody hearing, although attorney Charles Boyd conceded on cross-examination that he might be wrong about the year.

Corfman's attorneys presented the testimony of two women who said they dated Moore as teens and three others who said Moore asked them out when they were teens. Wendy Miller testified that Moore asked her out when she was 15 or 16, although she wasn't sure if Moore knew her age. Another testified that Moore called her high school when she was in trigonometry class after meeting her at the mall.

Moore's attorneys noted in closing arguments that none of the women alleged wrongdoing by Moore.

"I don't know when it became a crime to date people," McPhillips said during closing arguments.

McPhillips appeared to downplay the accusation at one point, saying the alleged touching was "child's play" to what two former presidents have been accused of doing. He did not elaborate.

Eagan responded in her closing argument that she was horrified McPhillips used that phrase when discussing the touching of a 14-year-old girl "over her bra and over her panties."

Corfman's allegations roiled Moore's campaign and he ended up losing to Doug Jones, who became the first Alabama Democrat elected to the Senate in 25 years. Jones lost the next election to Republican Tommy Tuberville, who now holds the Senate seat.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.