When the verdicts came in at 4:52 p.m. Tuesday, former Vanderbilt University football players Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey were found guilty in the rape of an unconscious woman in a dorm on June 23, 2013. The announcement took less than four minutes.
|Vandenburg and Batey|
Vandenburg, 21, shook his head after the foreman read: "Count 1, we find Mr. Vandenburg guilty of aggravated rape." His father, Rob Vandenburg, yelled out into the courtroom, later wiping his eyes with a scarf. "That is terrible," he said. His grief nearly muted the foreman, who continued reading verdicts. All were guilty.
One juror appeared to have tears in her eyes. As the verdict was read, the victim — who does not remember the rape — held her mother's hand and held back tears.
In a statement, the victim — who sat through every day of the trial — thanked prosecutors, detectives and victims advocates.
"You are my heroes and I am so proud of and grateful for each of you," the statement read.
"I am also hopeful that the publicity this case has received will lead to a discussion of how we can end sexual violence on college campuses. Finally, I want to remind other victims of sexual violence: You are not alone. You are not to blame."
The trial has occurred amid national attention on issues of sexual assault on college campuses, and scrutiny of how colleges react to reports.
Penn State University football coach James Franklin, who was the football coach at Vanderbilt during the time of the rape, did not reply to requests for comment.
"This case gives our entire community an opportunity to talk to each other and to our children, especially to our boys, about the way we treat women, both with our actions and with our words," he said. "No one deserves to be violated. Further, if you see someone who is being sexually assaulted, the right thing to do is to report it and try and get the person some help."
In trial, jurors watched videos and saw photos of the rape that detectives recovered from Vandenburg's, Batey's and Brandon E. Bank's phones. Banks and Jaborian "Tip" McKenzie, both 20, also are accused in the case. They are awaiting trial.
According to court testimony, Vandenburg and the victim were intoxicated when they arrived at Vandenburg's dorm, Gillette Hall, about 2:30 a.m. June 23, 2013. Vandenburg carried the unconscious woman in and put her on the floor like trash, Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman said in his closing argument.
Within two minutes Batey began sexually assaulting the woman with his fingers. One of the men stuck a water bottle in the woman's anus. Vandenburg cheered his teammates on: "Squeeze that s***, Squeeze that s***."
Though Vandenburg did not inappropriately touch the woman, a jury found him equally responsible for his role. The count on which jurors returned the attempted aggravated rape charge related to whether Batey penetrated the victim with his penis. McKenzie had testified that it looked as if Batey was doing so, but in another statement McKenzie said Batey could not get an erection.
Jim Todd, who has been analyzing the case for The Tennessean, said putting Batey on the stand Monday was a good defense strategy and "the only strategy they had" when up against graphic photos and videos. Batey admitted some wrongdoing and then apologized in a "Hail Mary" defense, Todd said.
He called Vandenburg's defense, put on by Albert Perez Jr. and Fletcher Long, "the slash and burn approach" because of frequent objections that may have seemed antagonistic to the jury.
Thurman said the trial "could very well be" his final case as he weighs retirement.
Asked about the defendants' theory that the Vanderbilt culture affected Batey's actions, he said: "I don't know how culture can be blamed for someone raping, assaulting and urinating on a victim who's unconscious. I didn't think it merited very much consideration by the jury."
Perez started to tear up when asked about Vandenburg's reaction to the verdict.
"It's very difficult for a person who is young to understand what happened, because he asked me what happened … ," Perez said as he choked up.
Worrick Robinson, Batey's attorney, described the case as a "heavyweight bout" and said that "justice can be harsh." He later recalled to reporters what he told Batey after the verdict:
"I told him I loved him. I told him we're not going to abandon him. I told him that there are other processes to seek."
Batey and Vandenburg hugged their attorneys. Batey waved to his family members. "We love you, Cory," one man said.
Judge Monte Watkins ordered, per Tennessee law, that Vandenburg and Batey be taken into custody. Both men left through a door into a room where jailed inmates are held. They could face decades in prison.
In fewer than four minutes Tuesday, a jury announced its justice.