DA not giving up after Ukwuachu’s rape conviction is overturned

Sam Ukwuachu is back on trial over a rape conviction filed back in 2013. Photo courtesy of Jerry Larson and the Associated Press

By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer

An appeals court recently overturned a former Baylor football player’s sexual assault conviction, but his case is far from settled.

Sam Ukwuachu was convicted in 2015 following the alleged 2013 rape of a Baylor freshman athlete. On July 10, the 10th Court of Appeals ruled that Ukwuachu’s due process rights were violated and overturned his conviction while calling for a new trial.

July’s reversal is the third in Ukwuachu’s case. The 10th Court of Appeals first reversed the conviction in 2017 before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reinstated it the next year.

Tom Needham, McLennan County’s executive assistant district attorney, said the state is still moving to appeal the decision.

“[We either] already have filed or soon will file the petition with the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin asking them to reverse the 10th court,” Needham said. “[There are] a number of reasons we disagree and are confident the Court of Criminal Appeals will reverse the 10th Court’s ruling a second time.”

Needham added that the appeals process is likely to take six months or more.

Colorado-based attorney John Clune represents the alleged victim. Clune said his client and her family hope to see Ukwuachu’s conviction reinstated again.

“Nobody wants to go through a trial twice if you’re a victim of anything,” Clune said. “They’re certainly hopeful that the prosecutor’s office is able to be successful in the Criminal Court of Appeals.”

William Bratton of Dallas represents Ukwuachu. Bratton’s office was contacted for comment, but Bratton did not respond by the time of publication.

Ukwuachu’s appeal claimed the use of his roommate’s phone records constituted false testimony. The records were not admitted as evidence, but the prosecution was allowed to ask questions about them during Ukwuachu’s trial.

Ukwuachu’s roommate previously testified he was in their apartment at the time of the alleged assault but the prosecution argued that the time and location of calls made by the roommate showed he was not at the apartment. Ukwuachu’s defense stated the records were not properly converted to local time and that determining a precise location from them was unlikely.

In its ruling, the 10th Court of Appeals said the state “created a false impression with the jury” by repeatedly referring to cell phone records that were not admitted as evidence. According to the ruling, the state went to “great lengths” to use these records to discredit key witness testimonies. The court ruled this as a violation of Ukwuachu’s due process rights and called for a new trial.

“The [10th Court of Appeals], in my opinion, either intentionally or unintentionally misstated the facts concerning the phone records,” Needham said. “The [10th Court of Appeals] are not technical experts on phone records; they can’t come to their own opinions as opposed to looking at the evidence. They simply have no basis to conclude that there was a false impression given to the jury.”

Ukwuachu transferred to Baylor in 2013 after being dismissed from Boise State. His 2015 sentence included six months in jail and 10 years of probation.