Jurors hear closing arguments in Vanderbilt rape case
The rape trial of two former Vanderbilt football players began wrapping up Monday with a prosecutor telling jurors that video evidence and photographs taken of the crime would be enough to convict them on most of the charges.
Beyond the video footage and photographs, testimony from several athletes shows the players are guilty, Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman told jurors during closing arguments.
The proceedings capped off a day of dramatic testimony during which one of the former players took the stand and testified that he was so drunk he could not remember what happened.
Former players Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey are standing trial on five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. Two other former players are facing the same charges. Vandenburg additionally faces a charge of unlawful photography and tampering with evidence.
All have pleaded not guilty.
Throughout the trial, jurors have seen graphic images of the alleged sexual assault that police recovered from cellphones and a laptop. Prosecutors said players took pictures of the assault and one even sent videos to his friends as it was happening.
"This is normally the part of the trial where we might say that if we had this on photo or if we had it on video, then it would make the state’s job a lot easier," Norman told jurors in her closing. "But we actually have this uncontradicted proof in this case," the prosecutor said of one of the rape charges.
Defense attorneys have claimed that the players were drunk, one of them saying his client had an alcoholic blackout.
"Ladies and gentleman, I submit to you that the only person who was unconscious and didn’t know what was going on was (the victim)," Norman told jurors in her closing arguments.
A defense attorney for Batey responded by telling jurors that they would not see video or photographic evidence of his client having sex with the coed.
"The testimony was he was crazy drunk and didn’t know what he was doing," Robinson told jurors of Batey. Robinson also blamed a college culture that encouraged binge drinking and sex and said it wasn’t just limited to Vanderbilt.
The closing arguments came after Batey took the stand and testified that he can’t remember the alleged sexual assault that prosecutors say he and three players carried out.
"I was just drunk out of my mind," Batey testified. "This is something I would never do in my right state of mind. I’m just sorry."
Batey told jurors that he was horrified when he saw on his cellphone explicit pictures of a woman he’d never met.
"I didn’t know how they got there," Batey said. "I didn’t know what happened to the young lady in the pictures. I immediately deleted them."
Batey was a 19-year-old who had just come out of his freshman year when he and three of his teammates were charged with raping an unconscious student in a dorm in June 2013.
The alleged victim in the case was doubled over and crying in her seat in the courtroom and appeared to be vomiting while Batey was on the stand. She testified last week she had no recollection of being sexually assaulted. The Associated Press generally does not identify alleged victims of sex crimes.
Vandenburg’s defense did not get a chance to make a closing argument and is set to do so on Tuesday morning.
Vandenburg is not accused of having sex with the woman or penetrating her in any way. But he has been charged with aggravated rape because he is accused of encouraging other players to have sex with her.
Vandenburg and the woman had gone out earlier in the evening, and he can be seen on university surveillance video carrying the unconscious woman back to his dorm room.
"He didn’t put her in the bed," Norman said of Vandenburg in her closing arguments. "He wasn’t trying to care for her. He put her on the floor."
Norman said that over and over Vandenburg encouraged the others to violate the woman. She said the only reason he didn’t was because he couldn’t perform.
On Monday evening, a silent vigil was held on the steps of the Parthenon in Nashville to call attention to survivors of rape and sexual assault and to protest what organizers said was victim-blaming in the trial.
"My ultimate goal here is to pray for a very wounded community," said Helen Ressler, a graduate student at Vanderbilt Divinity School and one of about 45 people who attended the vigil. She said she was referring to the Vanderbilt community but also the impact that the trial is having on survivors of sexual assault outside the school.