By Kalyn Story | Staff Writer
Waco’s 10th Court of Appeals reversed former Baylor football player and 2015 graduate Sam Ukwuachu’s sexual assault conviction yesterday morning.
Ukwuachu was found guilty in August 2015 on two counts of sexual assault.
He was charged with sexually assaulting a former Baylor student in an off-campus apartment in October 2013.
The 10th Court overturned the ruling and ordered a retrial because a series of text messages between the victim and a friend were deemed inadmissible as evidence in the first trial.
A portion of the messages were used as evidence, but not all of the messages were admitted, which Ukwuachu’s lawyer argued would have supported his defense of consensual sex.
“We find that because consent was the central issue in the proceeding, we cannot say that we have a fair assurance that the erroneous exclusion of the text messages did not affect the outcome of this proceeding, especially when considered with the other alleged errors in the trial of this cause,” Chief Justice Tom Gray wrote in the opinion.
Ukwuachu’s lawyer William Bratton III released a statement yesterday afternoon expressing his approval of the court’s ruling.
“My review of the court record showed there was evidence that did not go before the jury that we felt should have been allowed,” Bratton said. “Specifically, the text messages the court referred to in its opinion.”
Bratton also said that he believes the outcome of the trial may have been different if that evidence had gone before the jury.
“However, this is just the beginning of the appeal process,” Bratton said. “Prosecutors say they will appeal this ruling, which means we have a long way to go before this action is final. If the state appeals, I believe we have other evidence that will help us if this case proceeds in the process.”
McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna said he is requesting that the Texas Court of Appeals review the case further.
“We will continue the fight on behalf of our victim and her family,” Reyna said. “While I respect the 10th Court of Appeals, I disagree with their decision and reasoning in this case. I am extremely confident in the decisions made by our prosecutors and the rulings made by Judge Johnson in the trial of this case.”
The complainant’s lawyer, John Clune, released a statement Thursday morning stating his dissatisfaction with the ruling but confidence that the retrial will yield the same guilty conviction.
“This is an unfortunate ruling but one that we expect will ultimately be decided by the Criminal Court of Appeals,” Clune said. “The trial court ruled that these text messages had no bearing on consent and we remain optimistic that the higher court will agree. Either way, the victim will continue to cooperate with the prosecution and see this case to its proper end.”
A Baylor spokesperson said Baylor declines to comment on the ruling because it is a legal matter outside of the university’s purview.
In August 2015, following Ukwuachu’s conviction, Baylor issued a statement about sexual assault. It reads:
“Acts of sexual violence contradict every value Baylor University upholds as a caring Christian community. In recent years we have joined university efforts nationally to prevent campus violence against women and sexual assault, to actively support survivors of sexual assault with compassion and care, and to take action against perpetrators. We have established and fully staffed a Title IX office that employs a Title IX Coordinator and two full-time investigators. Maintaining a safe and caring community is central to Baylor’s mission and at the heart of our commitment to our students, faculty and staff.”