Jonathan Majors’ Trial Has Been Jarring. Domestic Violence Experts Have Seen It All Before.
“Sometimes [accused men] deny the abuse happened, and sometimes they just deny that it was wrong," sexual violence researcher Dr. Nicole Bedera told Jezebel.Photo: Getty Images In Depth Jonathan Majors
Over the last two weeks, Jonathan Majors’ ongoing domestic violence trial has unearthed a series of gutting revelations about his former relationship with Grace Jabbari, whom Majors is charged with assaulting one evening in March. After closing statements were made on Thursday, the jury began deliberating and returned Friday afternoon to ask the judge to explain each of the four different assault charges against Majors, Courthouse News reported. Jurors also asked for access to specific pieces of evidence, including Majors’ 911 call the morning after the alleged assault, and footage of him and Jabbari the evening of the alleged assault. The court adjourned for the day before the jury returned with a verdict and will resume deliberating next week.
“Jonathan Majors is innocent and Grace is a liar,” Priya Chaudhry, Majors’ lead attorney, said point-blank during closing arguments, following hours of tense back-and-forth. Majors’ attorneys leaned hard into the narrative that Jabbari is accusing Majors of abuse solely to punish him for ending the relationship after the alleged assault. Majors’ camp also doubled down on their claim that she was the aggressor against him. By contrast, prosecutors said their case could be summarized with four words: “Control, domination, manipulation, and abuse.” Prosecutors further emphasized that Jabbari leads a highly private life, and didn’t have anything to gain—and far more to lose—from accusing Majors.
In all, Majors’ trial has been almost unbearable to watch—at one point last week, Majors’ attorney asked Jabbari about her high school ex-boyfriend’s alleged suicide, prompting Jabbari to cry and briefly leave the room. The emotions, allegations, and personal attacks have been gut-wrenching—and, to domestic violence experts like Dr. Nicole Bedera, the trial follows the cadence of legal disputes involving intimate partner abuse that she “sees all the time.” The approach of Majors’ legal team—to question Jabbari’s credibility and frame Majors as her victim—has been particularly familiar.
This week, Majors’ legal team called his driver as a witness, and the driver claimed Jabbari had been the aggressor toward Majors on the evening of the alleged assault. (Prosecutors responded by arguing Majors’ driver “reveals [himself] to be a biased witness to the man who paid him.”) This testimony came after, earlier in the trial, the judge referenced Majors’ counter-claim that Jabbari had assaulted him, resulting in her October arrest. The judge called this sequence of events “very unusual” because New Yorkers aren’t typically able to press charges months later, as Majors did. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office in October declined to prosecute Jabbari, determining there was “no prosecutorial merit” to Majors’s allegations. As this was read aloud in court Meagan Good, Majors’ current girlfriend who attended the entirety of the trial, visibly shook her head.
Here is the voice recording where Majors chastises his ex-girlfriend, saying he's a "great man" and needs a "great woman" like Michelle Obama or Coretta Scott King. Majors was upset she went to the pub with a friend pic.twitter.com/DQWO7sCBzQ
— Cheyenne Roundtree (@cheyenneisround) December 13, 2023
To Bedera, this—characterizing Jabbari as the one who’s dangerous to Majors—is “how DARVO [deny, attack, reverse victim and offender] works.” She explained, “It’s about bringing up things the victim has done to suggest the victim is not a perfect victim, they’re not a deserving victim, they’re not a good victim.” For example, Bedera points to the suggestion from Majors’ camp that Jabbari is mentally unstable, or can’t be a victim because victims don’t go to parties, or that she’s the one who poses a threat to Majors. “Sometimes they deny the abuse happened, and sometimes they just deny that it was wrong, because it was actually ‘self-defense.’”
Despite Majors’ attorneys’ claims of his victimhood, prosecutors offered extensive evidence of the violence and abuse he inflicted on Jabbari. Days before closing arguments, the judge allowed photos, videos, and audio evidence to be made public; this evidence included disturbing photos of Jabbari’s injuries, consistent with her testimony of his physical attacks. Audio evidence shows Majors chastising Jabbari for going out to a bar with her friends, telling her that he is a “great man” who needs to be with a woman like Michelle Obama or Coretta Scott King. Video footage also shows Majors appearing to use physical force against Jabbari on the night of the alleged assault.
At one point in the trial, Jabbari broke down in tears while on the stand as prosecutors played footage of Majors pushing her into a car. “I really don’t want to watch it again. This is going to make me sick,” Jabbari said, all while the Associated Press reports that “Majors looked impassively on from his seat nearby.” Jabbari testified last Thursday that she initially didn’t want to cooperate with police after Majors allegedly attacked her. She further testified that Majors had warned her against trusting the police because of “what they would do to him as a Black man,” per Variety’s reporting. “I didn’t want to put him in that situation,” she told the jury. “I wanted to say: ‘Help me, please.’ But I felt scared to do that. … I loved him still, it was so confusing and I didn’t want to get him in trouble.”
Prosecutors went on to provide additional evidence of Majors’ alleged violence, including texts from 2022 between Majors and Jabbari in which they appear to argue over whether she should go to the hospital over injuries she received from him. “Why would I tell them what really happened if I feel like I want to be with you? I will tell the doctor I bumped my head,” she wrote. “I will not go to the doctor if you don’t feel safe with me doing so.” Majors wrote back, “I fear you have no perspective what could happen if you go the hospital, they will ask you questions….it will lead to an investigation even if you do lie and they suspect something.” Jabbari also revealed a photo she took of what she says was the aftermath of a fight with Majors: “I took the photo because the shift in his temper was something I was aware of, and I just wanted to remember,” she said. “I knew I kept forgiving him, but I just wanted to have a bit of a memory of him.”
In a video released by TMZ, Jonathan Majors is shown physically picking Grace Jabbari off the ground & shoving her back into the car.
Then, he’s shown yanking her around violently by the arm. She runs after him but, after she stops, he turns around and goes back to her. pic.twitter.com/7eOyXAjz8W
— 𝙻𝚎𝚊𝚟𝚎𝙷𝚎𝚊𝚛𝚍𝙰𝚕𝚘𝚗𝚎 (@LeaveHeardAlone) December 13, 2023
Jabbari testified that the morning after the alleged assault, she woke up to “loads of officers” as Majors called the police upon finding her unresponsive on the floor. She recalled being hesitant, but that she eventually told officers Majors had inflicted the injuries. “I could hear Jonathan in the next room. So, I didn’t want to say exactly what happened, but I also saw this as a moment to have a bit of help in leaving the relationship,” Jabbari recalled. After Majors was subsequently arrested, Jabbari said she “felt like it was my fault,” and, “I should have lied and said nothing happened so he wouldn’t be in trouble or upset with me. I wanted to fix it.”
Through its achingly dark moments and the strategies and arguments put forth by Majors’ lawyers, Bedera said she was reminded of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s trial last spring. That trial saw Depp’s lawyers assert it was Heard who had abused Depp by being violent toward him in response to violence. “Johnny Depp is a great example because he never denied that he’d hit Amber. He instead used DARVO to argue his violence was justified,” Bedera said. These methods certainly predate Depp’s trial, but the widely viewed spectacle it created in 2022 helped popularize the rhetoric that frames accused men as the actual victims. The Daily Beast reports significant overlap between Depp’s online supporters and Majors’ during their trials.
Jonathan Majors arrives at court hand-in-hand with girlfriend Meagan Good.Photo: Getty Images
MeToo, Bedera says, was “weaponized by men’s rights activists who rarely actually care about male victims to say, ‘Well, shouldn’t you believe all victims? What about men?’” Now, “what we’ve ended up with is that perpetrators use that discourse as a way to say, ‘Well, if I say I’m the victim, you have to believe me too.’” Whether or not onlookers are convinced that a man who’s accused of abuse is, in fact, the victim, they usually walk away from a scenario like this confused. “And that’s the whole point,” Bedera said, “to confuse people enough that it makes the demand for accountability go away.”
Nicole Branca, executive director of New Destiny Housing, a New York City-based nonprofit that provides housing and services to victims of domestic violence, told Jezebel that victims she works with frequently face counter-claims of abuse from their abusers. It’s “just another way for abusers to further isolate, control, and take power in the relationship.” The aftermath of being accused and attacked by one’s abuser for coming forward, Branca said, is often “PTSD, financial loss, mental health struggles, isolation”—the abuse that victims survive, itself, is just the beginning.
Jabbari isn’t the only woman who’s accused Majors of abuse. Shortly after Variety reported on several alleged victims working with the Manhattan district attorney’s office back in April, Rolling Stone reported on additional allegations against him in June. According to Rolling Stone, nine sources who were familiar with Majors and his ex-partners’ relationships alleged that he once strangled one of the women, and subjected another to “emotional torture” and threatening, controlling behavior. In the face of these claims from numerous parties, Majors’ legal team has continued its aggressive attack on Jabbari’s character for the last nine months, and throughout the trial. “It has felt like the abuse that I was in has just not ended,” Jabbari told the court last week.