A former football player at Vanderbilt University was found guilty Friday night of raping an unconscious student in a dorm room, an attack that was photographed and videotaped by teammates, according to testimony. One of the players sent video of the assault to friends as it was happening.
At a time of intense scrutiny of the issue of campus sexual assault nationally, with federal civil rights investigations related to sexual violence underway at more than 160 colleges across the country, along with countless prevention and awareness efforts, the Vanderbilt case came to symbolize some of the worst horrors of hard-partying campus culture, the dangers of excessive drinking and the importance of bystander intervention.
Four former football players were charged with rape and violations of the student, but only one was on trial this week. After a week of testimony, the jury took less than three hours to find Cory Batey, 22, of Nashville, guilty of aggravated rape, two counts of attempted aggravated rape, facilitation of aggravated rape and three counts of aggravated sexual battery, the Associated Press reported.
The victim in the case, now studying for her doctorate in neuroscience elsewhere, was a senior at Vanderbilt in June 2013. She said at the trial that she had been dating Brandon Vandenburg, another of the four men charged in the case, for two weeks and that the last thing she remembered of that night was him giving her drinks at a bar.
She woke up the next morning in an unfamiliar room, sick, with no idea what had happened, she testified. She did not know until police later showed her photos and video taken from cellphones.
The Washington Post generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.
Prosecutors told jurors that the woman was raped in the dorm room in a 32-minute attack that ended with Batey urinating on her and that she was then taken out into a hallway and left there like trash.
During the trial, the woman broke down when a prosecutor showed her a photo of herself unconscious, and said: “It’s me. It’s me.”
Tom Thurman, deputy district attorney in Nashville, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday.
The trial, full of graphic images of the assault, has been closely followed. Last year, Batey and Vandenburg were found guilty of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery, but when lawyers learned that the jury foreman had been a victim of statutory rape, the judge declared a mistrial. Defense attorneys had blamed campus culture at the elite private university in Nashville, essentially arguing that drunken sex was so common that the men’s judgment was distorted.
At the trial this week, Batey said he was so drunk he didn’t remember anything of the attack. His attorney Courtney Teasley said he was so drunk that three of his teammates had pushed him into the assault, calling Vandenburg the “puppet master.” Teasley told jurors that Batey was the second-drunkest person in the room and that he and the victim were used as entertainment by his teammates. “We know what rape is, and Mr. Batey’s not guilty of that,” she said. Teasley was not immediately available for comment Saturday.
Several athletes saw the victim in trouble — including seeing her lying unconscious, partially naked, in the hallway after the assault — and did nothing about it, according to testimony.
The crime was discovered only by chance: University officials went to police in Nashville when, after reviewing surveillance video for an investigation of a vandalism incident, they saw footage of athletes carrying an unconscious woman.
Batey’s sentencing is set for May 20. Vandenburg is scheduled to be tried in June. Former football players Brandon Banks and Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie, who are also charged in the case, have not yet been scheduled to go to trial.
Vanderbilt has a number of events planned for next week to mark sexual assault awareness month, including a bystander-intervention training program.
In a statement late Friday night, Beth Fortune, the university’s vice chancellor for public affairs, said:
The jury has spoken. Our first thoughts are with the victim and the incredible strength she has shown, and continues to show, both throughout the investigation and the legal proceedings. Our heart continues to go out to her as she has endured this retrial. This case has had a lasting impact on us all. On our campus it has helped raise awareness of and dialogue around the issue of sexual violence. The Vanderbilt community’s efforts to combat the threat of sexual violence continue. As part of these efforts, we appreciate our strong working relationship with the Metro Nashville Police Department – a partnership that helped deliver today’s verdict and some measure of resolution for the victim. Sexual violence will not be tolerated at Vanderbilt – incidents will be investigated, victims will be supported and perpetrators will be held accountable.
On Saturday, she added that while protecting students’ health and safety has always been the top priority, “following this attack we have taken numerous additional and concrete steps to prevent sexual misconduct and support victims.” Those include opening the Project Safe Center for Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response, adding staff who can support victims and provide prevention education, requiring all incoming students to complete sexual assault prevention training and alcohol education, and surveying more than 11,000 students about the issue.