The victim had no memory of the attack, but the photos and video were terrifying: students at Vanderbilt University in Nashville sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.
On Tuesday, two years after the attack, a jury in Nashville convicted two former Vanderbilt University football players of aggravated rape and related charges. They were among four players who allegedly participated in the assault. Two others, who have pleaded not guilty, will be tried later.
Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, both 21, now face 15 to 80 years in prison. They were convicted after a 12-day trial and about three hours of jury deliberation.
The case was unusual because the victim had no memory of the assault and could not testify about it. But the images — some taken by Vandenburg and sent to his friends during the attack — ultimately helped convict him and Batey. Batey — 6 feet, 183 pounds — was a wide receiver from Nashville. Vandenburg, a former tight end from Indio, Calif., is 6 feet 6 inches and 260 pounds.
It was also unusual because others in the dorm where the attack occurred were said to be aware the victim was in trouble, but did not help her or call for help. “I think we need to think about the range of bystanders who could have intervened before they got into that dorm room,” Jane Stapleton, a University of New Hampshire expert on rape intervention, told the Associated Press.
Gasps were heard as the jury foreman said Vandenburg was guilty. The former player shook his head at the verdict.
In a statement, the victim — who is not being identified by The Washington Post because she is a survivor of a sex crime — said she hoped the conviction would encourage others to speak out.
“I want to remind other victims of sexual violence: You are not alone,” she said, the Associated Press reported. “You are not to blame.”
The victim, a 21-year-old neuroscience and economics major, had gone out with Vandenburg earlier in the evening on the night she was assaulted. Though Vandenburg did not have sex with the victim, he was charged with rape because he encouraged Batey and two other players yet to face trial to assault her.
Testimony showed Vandenburg passed out condoms to the other players, slapped her buttocks and said he couldn’t have sex with the woman because he was high on cocaine, the AP said.
Batey raped the woman and urinated on her, prosecutors said.
The defense blamed alcohol.
“The testimony was he was crazy drunk and didn’t know what he was doing,” Worrick Robinson, Batey’s attorney, said at trial.
Such arguments that the defendants were not in their right minds — or that their actions should be blamed on a college culture of licentiousness — did not go over with the jury.
“I was just drunk out of my mind,” Batey said on the stand. “This is something I would never do in my right state of mind. I’m just sorry.”
Indeed, the idea that anything can happen on a college campus without consequences may have hurt the defense.
“That’s the culture that you really saw here,” Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman said. “Their mindset that they can get away with anything.”
Documentation of the assault also proved damning.
“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,” Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman told jurors in her closing. “But we actually have this uncontradicted proof in this case.”
Though the story of the assault made its way around campus shortly after it happened, the university, in the middle of an unrelated investigation into damage of a dormitory door, found closed-circuit footage of players photographing an unconscious woman and dragging her into a room. Police were called, and the players were eventually kicked off the team and expelled.
Questions linger about why no one called police or helped the woman on the night of the attack. Witnesses reportedly saw her partially naked in the hallway.
“We will also continue our comprehensive ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the importance of every Vanderbilt student intervening when another student is at risk or in distress,” the school said in a statement.
A vigil for victims of sexual violence was held Monday night at the university.
“My ultimate goal here is to pray for a very wounded community,” said Helen Ressler, a graduate student at Vanderbilt Divinity School
Sentencing was set for March 6.