Prosecutors in the retrial of a former Vanderbilt football player told a Memphis jury in Monday’s opening statements that Brandon Vandenburg coached his teammates into having sex with an unconscious woman he had been dating. The defense countered that Vandenburg gave in to peer pressure to drink and was a witness to a plan that was executed by three now-former teammates.
Vandenburg allegedly distributed condoms to teammates before the woman, whose identity is being withheld, was given alcohol and raped in a dormitory on the Nashville campus in June 2013. The 22-year-old former tight end from Indio, Calif., is not accused of having sex with the victim but Vandenburg can be seen “giving instructions, encouraging, and then you’ll hear him laughing” in cellphone videos that will be presented in evidence, Deputy District Attorney General Tom Thurman told jurors (via The Tennessean), adding, “He thinks it’s hilarious.”
Vandenburg is facing five counts of aggravated rape, two counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count of unlawful photography in the trial in Nashville. Along with former teammate Cory Batey, Vandenburg was convicted in a jury trial last year, but the verdicts were tossed when it was discovered that the foreman of the jury had been a statutory rape victim. Batey, who was found guilty of aggravated rape and other charges in a retrial in April, is expected to be sentenced in July. There is no trial scheduled yet for the other two athletes.
The retrial assumes a higher national visibility now, framed against growing awareness of the problem of sexual assault on campuses, especially after the conviction and controversial sentencing of a former Stanford swimmer who was convicted of sexual assault. Brock Turner received a six-month sentence this month and is likely to be released in early September, a ruling that has resulted in a recall effort against the judge.
Randall Reagan, an attorney for Vandenburg, described a 19-year-old recruit who was quickly introduced to drinking and partying by his new teammates. The day before the incident, Vandenburg and his teammates were drinking all day at a lake. When they returned from the lake, he and the woman were drinking in a bar and caught a cab to her apartment. When they couldn’t get in, Reagan said, Vandenburg drove them to his dormitory. Teammates he did not know saw him struggling to carry her and use a security card and he asked them for help.
“Mr. Vandenburg maybe could have stopped it,” Reagan told jurors, “but the state is asking you to find Mr. Vandenburg criminally responsible for the actions of people he didn’t know minutes before all this happened.”
The prosecution disagreed, with Thurman telling jurors that Vandenburg said, “we’re gonna ‘F’ this b—-” when he got her into his room, according to the Tennessean’s coverage of the retrial.
During the Batey retrial, the victim testified that she has no memory of what happened in Vandenburg’s dorm. She said she took a drink from him late on June 22, 2013, and woke up at 8 a.m. the next day, alone in his room. Her shoulder hurt, she said, and she felt increasingly ill throughout the day, according to the Tennessean’s account of her testimony.
The woman said she has not seen all the photos from the cellphones of Vandenburg and Brandon E. Banks, whose case is pending. Shown one photo during testimony, she was asked: “Did you consent to any of that?”
“Absolutely not,” the woman said as she wiped away tears.
The jury heard five days of testimony and convicted Batey after 2 1/2 hours of deliberation.