The rumors were shocking. The court statement presented by the prosecutor is far worse. In easily the worst day in the history of Vanderbilt, details of an alleged gang rape by members of the university’s football team were finally made public in a Nashville courtroom on Friday morning and those who love college football across the South collectively wept.
Ever since late June, Vanderbilt University has been smeared and its football program staggered by the fact four football players have been charged with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. Police say the four scholarship athletes took turns raping and abusing an unconscious 21-year-old Vanderbilt female in one of the player’s Gillette Hall dormitory rooms earlier this summer.
Awaiting an Oct. 16 hearing are 20-year-old Brandon Vandenburg of Indio, Calif., 19-year-old Corey Batey of Nashville, 19-year-old Brandon Eric Bates of Brandywine, Md., and 19-year-old Jaborian McKenzie of Woodville, Miss. Two others from California, who are believed to be friends of Vandenburg – 19-year-old Miles Finley of Palm Desert, and 20-year-old Joseph Quinzio of Palm Desert -- are also being charged for tampering with evidence and await extradition to Tennessee. Vandenburg also faces tampering with evidence and unlawful photography charges. All have been released on bond.
Yesterday a fifth Vanderbilt player, 21-year old wide receiver Chris Boyd of Roswell, Ga., copped a plea with prosecutors and instead of answering charges of “accessory after the fact” (a felony punishable with up to two years in prison), pleaded guilty to “criminal intent” (misdemeanor) and received 11 months/29 days of probation in return for his agreeing to testify against his four former teammates. His record will be expunged if he completes his probation period in a satisfactory manner.
But when Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman presented a brief narrative before Judge Steve Dozier, it implicated two more players who are scheduled to start for the Commodores in their game at South Carolina tonight. Named were quarterback Austyn Carta Samuels and tight end Dillon van der Wal and, as this was being written, their game status was unknown.
What is known is what prosecutor Thurman -- known as the “Thurmanator” for his aggressive style on high-profile cases -- presented to the court and here is his narrative as it appeared in Friday’s online edition of The Nashville Tennessean:
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“On June 23, 2013, in the early morning hours, Brandon Vandenburg took an unconscious female Vanderbilt student from the Tin Roof bar to his room in Gillette Hall, which is located on the Vanderbilt campus, here in Nashville, Davidson County. Mr. Vandenburg was joined in the room by Corey Batey, Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie, where this female student was sexually assaulted by different individuals.
“During one of the aggravated rapes, Mr. Vandenburg sent a text to Mr. Boyd showing the unconscious victim with an object inserted in her anally. Mr. Boyd promptly deleted the text because he didn’t want his girlfriend to see it. Shortly after receiving the text, Mr. Boyd received a phone call from Mr. Vandenburg saying that the victim had been “messed with in the hall” and sexually assaulted in the room, and he needed Mr. Boyd to come over.
“Mr. Vandenburg further stated that he wanted to have sex with the victim but could not get an erection even though he had used cocaine. When Mr. Boyd arrived, he found the victim laying (sic) in the hall, unconscious and not fully clothed. He and two other individuals carried her back into the room and placed her in the bed and left.
TEXT MESSAGES WERE THEN EXCHANGED
“June 23 -- Boyd to Vandenburg: “Tell ur boys to delete that (expletive). I’m looking out for your (expletive).”
“Second text: “And tell your roommate he didn’t see (expletive).”
“Third text: Boyd’s girlfriend (unidentified) to Boyd: “How is everything with Brandon”
“Fourth text: Boyd to girlfriend: “Good. I got everything cleared up and I talked to both Tip (McKenzie) and Corey already. Deleted everything. She didn’t remember (expletive) and feels bad.”
“June 24 -- Fifth text: Batey to Boyd: “We still good? I’m stressing”
“Sixth text: Batey to Boyd: “Video deleted? Have you talked to her”
“Seventh text: Boyd to Batey: “Nah she doesn’t anything that happened but she passed out in Vandenburg’s bed. Me Carta (Vanderbilt starting QB) and van der Wal (Vanderbilt TE) and Vanderburg help helped us move her out the hallway.”
“Eighth text: Batey to Boyd: “Tell him don’t say nothing to anybody” (return to narrative)
“Mr. Boyd also participated in a meeting with the four defendants involved in the case at the Popeye’s chicken restaurant, where the case was discussed.
“The defendant was not completely truthful with the police or the district attorney’s in initial interviews by omitting details of two conversations he had with Mr. Vandenburg in which Mr. Vandenburg made incriminating statements to Mr. Boyd. He later came forward and gave additional information about these conversations.”
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The sensational case, already being followed closely by the national media, is expected to be markedly distasteful to all associated with the university often called “The Harvard of the South.” To wit: Vandenburg and the victim are white, the other three players are black. One attorney has said the video footage has “a strong racial component” that goes far beyond the mere fact of the skin color.
Vanderbilt has notoriously withheld information from the media since the incident was first reported, refusing to even release the names of the accused until almost a full month had gone by, and as details begin to emerge, even the calloused Nashville police detectives are calling the rape case “unsettling.”
In a New York Times story about the rape at Vanderbilt, John Seigenthaler, the former longtime publisher and editor of The Tennessean, said succinctly, “It’s a scandal. There’s no other word for it. It’s the first real criminal scandal with Vanderbilt football. That’s a tough offset.”
How Vanderbilt’s football team will respond is unknown. The Commodores lost a heart-breaker to Ole Miss in the opener before screaming past out-manned Austin Peay last week so perhaps the litmus test will be tonight at South Carolina. Without quarterback Samuels and tight end van der Wal – should the university decide not to play either – it will hobble Vanderbilt but nothing like the fact at least four of its players are facing life-altering consequences if they are found to be guilty.
Vanderbilt football has never been in a storm as serious as this.