An appeals court in Texas overturned the sexual assault conviction of former Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu and remanded the case for retrial late Wednesday afternoon in Waco, Texas.
A panel of three judges ruled that the trial judge should have allowed into evidence more text messages between the alleged victim — a former Baylor women’s soccer player — and a friend. The texts were made just before the alleged assault occurred in October 2013 and, according to the panel, they dealt with past sexual behavior between the woman and Ukwuachu, who claimed they indicated sexual consent. The messages were not included in the court’s opinion.
“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 case,” Chief Justice Tom Gray wrote in the opinion, sending the case back to 54th State District Court.
Details from the trial and that of former Baylor defensive end Tevin Elliott helped reveal the depths of the sexual assault scandal that resulted in the firing of football coach Art Briles and cost the school president and athletic director their jobs. Elliott, who was convicted on two counts of sexual assault in 2014, is serving a 20-year term.
In the Ukwuachu case, the jury recommended a probated sentence and he was given 180 days in jail, 10 years of felony probation and 400 hours of community service. He also was ordered to register as a sex offender. Ukwuachu, who was ineligible to play in 2013 after his transfer from Boise State, was initially cleared after a Baylor Title IX investigation. He was suspended in 2014, a decision that the school did not explain at the time.
“We’re very disappointed to hear the news, mostly because our client has been through so much as it is,” the alleged victim’s attorney, John Clune, told ESPN. “But she’ll continue to cooperate with whatever the authorities need from her going forward.”
The decision came not long after Tre’Von Armstead, a former Baylor football player, was arrested on three second-degree felony sexual assault charges stemming from an alleged 2013 incident that occurred while he was a member of the team. Armstead is the fourth former Baylor football player indicted on sexual assault charges since 2012. Besides Ukwuachu and Elliott, Shawn Oakman, a member of the 2015 team, is awaiting trial.
A federal lawsuit filed in January alleges that at least 31 football players at Baylor committed at least 52 “acts of rape” over four years — including five gang rapes, two of which involved 10 or more players at the same time, some of whom videotaped the rapes on their phones and passed the recordings around to teammates. The lawsuit, filed by a Virginia woman who alleges that she was gang-raped by two Baylor players in 2013, is the latest fallout in a sexual-violence scandal that has embroiled the school and football program.