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Former Vanderbilt Football Player Found Guilty Again in Rape Retrial


In just one of the multiple recent cases calling attention to sexual assault on college campuses, former Vanderbilt student Brandon Vandenburg was found guilty—for a second time—of raping a female student in June 2013, Reuters reports

Though 23-year-old Vandenburg’s original conviction was declared a mistrial, in this retrial he was once again found guilty of five counts of aggravated rape, two counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count of unlawful photography on Saturday. Vandenburg could face anywhere from 15 to 25 years for each of the five rape charges when he is sentenced in July.

The jury that heard Vandenburg’s trial was from Memphis, rather than Nashville, out of concern that media coverage would make it challenging to find local jurors that could be impartial. The judge in the original trial, Judge Monte Watkins, declared a mistrial last June because a juror had not previously disclosed that he had been a victim of rape himself. This fact could potentially prevent the juror from being impartial, so the judge set aside the first set of convictions. 

A fellow Vanderbilt football player, Cory Batey, was also retried with Vandenburg and found guilty yet again. 

The details of the case, as reported by Reuters, are harrowing. Vandenburg and the victim were dating at the time of the assault. On the day of the attack, they had gone to a bar and had both been drinking even prior to meeting, according to testimony given during the trial.

Later that evening, Vandenburg attempted to take the then unconscious victim back to her apartment, but was unable to—so he took her to his own dorm instead. There, he was joined by three of his teammates, two of whom are still facing their trials. The four men then violently raped the woman.

The men used their cell phone cameras to record the attack. These videos later served as evidence in the trial, "playing crucial roles" in convicting the assailants. 

According to the victim's testimony, Vandenburg told her that she had gotten too drunk and became sick the previous night, so he took care of her. She believed him, at least at first. Eventually, she decided to get a rape kit test done after rumors of the attack circulated around campus. 

"He served her up to three strangers—for whatever reason, it doesn't matter, is that he did it," Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman told jurors, according to ABC News.

The defense attorney argued that Vandenburg was "too intoxicated" to commit the assault and therefore should be acquitted. As if alcohol was an adequate excuse for rape?

The victim testified at both the original trials and the retrials, for which prosecutors and Vanderbilt University officials have praised her courage and strength.

In a statement, Beth Fortune, Vanderbilt‘s Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs, said, “It is our sincere hope that today’s verdict strongly sends the message to victims and to perpetrators that sexual assault will not be tolerated in our communities."

After the public outcry that occurred as a reaction to the incredibly lenient sentence in the eerily similar Brock Turner case (you can read about that case here), the judge and jury in this trial may feel compelled to give Vandenburg an incredibly harsh sentence so as not to face the same backlash. If they do, it is clear that the court of public opinion has a strong influence on the court of law—one that cannot be ignored.

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