A jury convicted two ex-Vanderbilt football players on Tuesday of raping a former student, rejecting claims that they were too drunk to know what they were doing and that a college culture of binge drinking and promiscuous sex should be blamed for the attack.
The jury deliberated for three hours before announcing that Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey were guilty of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery.
Batey was stoic, staring ahead and Vandenburg shook his head “no,” appearing stunned. His father had an outburst and abruptly left the courtroom. Vandenburg’s attorney, who broke down in tears in an interview following his client being found guilty, says that his client asked him “What happened?” after hearing the verdict. An attorney for Batey said in an interview that he told his client “I loved him. I told him we weren’t going to abandon him.”
Following the verdict, Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman said that he hopes this verdict speaks to victims of assault state-wide, communicating that “If you are a victim and you come forward, we will prosecute.”
The victim, a 21-year-old neuroscience and economics major at the time of the June 2013 attack, cried as each guilty verdict was announced. The men face decades in prison when they are sentenced March 6.
“Aggravated rape is a class A felony carrying a penalty of 15 to 60 years. Aggravated sexual battery is a class B felony penalized by eight to 30 years,” reports The Tennessean, adding that while “[a]ggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery are “100 percent” crimes, meaning anyone sentenced to the 25-year maximum would serve that time in full,” in Tennessee in 2013 such “convictions convictions led to prison sentences of an average of just more than 11 years.”
During the nineteen-months that it took for the case to go to trial, the defendants lost not just their roles on the football team, but also their enrollment at the university.
Two additional friends of Vandenburg’s, both of whom live in California, testified at the trial and were offered one-year probation deals for being involved in covering up the rape and the felony charge of tampering with evidence. When the men were arrested in California in August of 2013, they were considered to be fugutives by the state of California and their bond was set at $150,000 each.
The jury heard two weeks of dramatic testimony from a parade of witnesses, including police, former and current Vanderbilt students and the woman, who said she didn’t remember what happened that night, only that she woke up in a strange dorm room. They also saw cellphone images from the night of the attack that Vandenburg sent to his friends as it was happening.
Despite the photos and video, and witnesses seeing the woman unconscious and at least partially naked in a dorm hallway, no one reported it.
The victim said in a statement she was hopeful the publicity from the case would lead to a discussion of how to end sexual violence on college campuses. In Nashville, where the prestigious private university is located, hundreds of college officials from across the state were meeting this week to discuss exactly that.
"Finally, I want to remind other victims of sexual violence: You are not alone. You are not to blame," she said.
Per The Tennessean, Vanderbilt University stated there had been “17 reports of sexual assault on campus in the 18 months before the June 23 incident [which resulted in Vandenburg and Batey’s arrest and trial]. In the 18 months since, there have been 26 reports.” Furthermore, “six current and former female students filed a complaint” against Vanderbilt for Title IX and Clery Act violations, alleging that they were discouraged to report assaults by the university and that university officials failed to follow-up on incidents that were reported.
This year, however, members of Vanderbilt’s Greek system and student-athletes have gone through Green Dot training, a program that provides training to reduce systemic sexual assault within a given community.
Vandenburg and Batey were on trial together, but represented by different attorneys. Attorneys for Vandenburg, who had been dating the woman, said he did not assault her.
Testimony showed Vandenburg passed out condoms to the other players, slapped her buttocks and said he couldn’t have sex with the woman because he was high on cocaine.
Batey raped the woman and urinated on her, prosecutors said. His attorneys argued the images didn’t show that.
Defense lawyers argued that Vandenburg and Batey were too drunk to know what they were doing and that a college culture of binge drinking and promiscuous sex should be partly to blame.
Much was made during the trial by the prosecution of the fact that Batey was able to correctly able to spell “quesadilla” in a text message following the alleged rape, arguing that anyone coherent enough to spell the word correctly was also sober enough to be knowledgeable of and accountable for their actions, especially regarding sexual assault. Lawyers for the defense argued that the word was correctly spelled because of autocorrect on the defendant’s phone.
During closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman told jurors that the college culture argument was a “red herring” and that the athletes thought the law didn’t apply to them.
"That’s the culture that you really saw here," Thurman said. "Their mindset that they can get away with anything."
Earlier, one of the defense attorneys conceded that Vandenburg took “deplorable” photos, but shouldn’t be convicted of rape because he didn’t take part in it.
"He took photographs that he never should have taken," attorney Fletcher Long said.
Batey, of Nashville, turned 21 on Tuesday. Vandenburg, 21, is from Indio, Calif.
Vandenburg’s roommate at the time testified that he had been on the top bunk and saw the woman face down on the floor. He said he heard one of the players say he was going to have sex with her, but didn’t do anything because he was afraid.
Rumors about what happened quickly spread around campus, and the assault might have gone unnoticed had the university not stumbled onto the closed-circuit TV images several days later in an unrelated attempt to learn who damaged a dormitory door. The images showed players carrying an unconscious woman into an elevator and down a hallway, taking compromising pictures of her and then dragging her into the room.
School authorities contacted police, who found the digital trail of images.
The university said after the verdict that they had kicked the players off the team many months ago, expelled them from school and were confident they acted appropriately.
"We will also continue our comprehensive ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the importance of every Vanderbilt student intervening when another student is at risk or in distress," the school said in a statement.
Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie, who is also charged in the case, testified he did not touch the woman himself but also took pictures.
No trial date has been set for him and Brandon Banks, the fourth former player accused in the assault. Banks did not testify.
- With additional reporting by The Associated Press