NASHVILLE, Tenn. >> 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.
The victim, who was 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.
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 in a two-day summit on exactly that.
“Finally, I want to remind other victims of sexual violence: You are not alone. You are not to blame,” she said.
Vandenburg and Batey were on trial together, but represented by different attorneys. Attorneys for Vandenburg, who had been seeing the woman, said he did not assault her but he was recorded on video laughing and encouraging his teammates. Batey’s attorneys said the images didn’t show him assaulting the woman.
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.
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 . their mindset that they can get away with anything,” Thurman said.
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. They were shocked to see 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.