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Ex-Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones testifies in libel case

12:38 PM, Jul 9, 2013   |    comments
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Former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones

 

COVINGTON, Ky. (Cincinnati.com) -- Ex-Dixie Heights High School teacher and one-time Cincinnati Ben-Gals cheerleader Sarah Jones took the stand Monday in the retrial of her potentially groundbreaking defamation lawsuit against online gossip website TheDirty.com.

Photo Gallery: Ex-cheerleader Sarah Jones pictures

The 28-year-old shed a few tears as she talked about being humiliated after the website published comments in 2009 alleging she was promiscuous and had sexually transmitted diseases.

"It is cyber-bullying," the 28-year-old Jones said of the website's posts about her. "I don't believe what the website does is fair. I don't believe it is right."

David Gingras, attorney for the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based website, fired back that Jones has no reputation to defame after she admitted to a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student she taught.

"You must judge Sarah's reputation based on her actions," Gingras said. "Felony convictions are relevant to a person's credibility."

He acknowledged that his client "can be mean, but mean is not a crime."

Jones pleaded guilty in October 2012 in state court to misdemeanor sexual misconduct and felony custodial interference and was sentenced to two years in prison. Her plea agreement allows her to avoid any confinement as long as she follows the terms of her probation for five years.

She walked out of the courtroom at the end of that case holding hands with the student, Cody York. Jones resigned from the high school the following November and is banned from seeking another teaching job as part of her plea agreement.

Jones and York, now 18, announced on social media sites in June that they were engaged to be married. They haven't publicly said if they have picked a wedding date.

York wasn't seen in the courtroom Monday but Jones' mother, Cheryl Jones, attended the first day of trial.

Cheryl Jones, who was principal at Twenhofel Middle School at the time of her daughter's crimes, admitted to sending York a text message telling him to get rid of his phone. Prosecutors said the mother sent the text from her Kenton County School District-issued mobile phone as police were executing a search warrant on the mother's home.

Cheryl Jones pleaded guilty to a charge of attempted tampering with physical evidence. She was sentenced to 12 months, but she also will not have to serve jail time if she does not commit any additional crimes for two years.

First Amendment and technology experts began closely watching Jones' defamation case after U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman ruled the website was not shielded from liability by the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The decision, issued in January 2012, was seen as a departure from numerous other rulings protecting website operators who use material provided to them, known as third-party content.

The first trial ended with a hung jury after three days of deliberations in January.

The retrial will continue today with Jones retaking the stand. Jones' attorney, Eric Deters, is also expected to call website operator Nik Richie to testify.

One difference in the retrial is that Gingras is expected to call Jones' ex-husband, Nathan Wilburn, to the stand. Wilburn did not testify at the first trial.

Calling Wilburn may create a challenge to authorities because a state judge has ordered him to stay 500 feet away from Jones. She got a protective order in October 2012 after Wilburn had made numerous threatening remarks to her stemming from her relationship with York. Jones and Wilburn married July 16, 2011. Jones moved out of the couple's home on Aug. 24 that year, according to court records. They filed for an annulment March 21, 2012, and Jones was indicted on sex abuse charges eight days later. The marriage was dissolved June 13, 2012.

Bertelsman told the jury of eight women and two men he expects to give them the case Wednesday. 

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