By Sheila Burke
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, 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.”