By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Reuters) – A former Vanderbilt University football player committed criminal rape and violated the laws of human decency, prosecutors said on Monday at the opening of his retrial on charges he raped an unconscious female student in June 2013.
Attorneys for Brandon Vandenburg, now 22, painted a completely different picture in their opening statement of his retrial, which began almost a year after a judge declared a mistrial following his conviction.
“He violated not only the laws of the state of Tennessee, he violated the laws of human decency,” said prosecutor Tom Thurman after he outlined what he said happened when the woman was attacked after Vandenburg and other football players brought her, unconscious, to his room.
However, defense attorney Randall Reagan placed the blame on the other men in the room.
“Brandon Vandenburg is not guilty,” he said after telling the jury his client was a heavily intoxicated observer who found himself “in way over his head” in the drinking and partying Vanderbilt football culture after transferring from a California junior college.
Jury selection took place last week in Memphis, 200 miles from the university in Nashville, because of concern that media coverage had made it hard to find impartial local jurors. The trial is taking place in Nashville and is expected to last up to six days, prosecutors have said.
Prosecutors have said the victim in the case, which drew national attention to sexual assaults on college campuses, had been drinking with friends and then with Vandenburg.
Vandenburg and teammate Cory Batey, two of four former Vanderbilt football players charged with counts of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery, were found guilty in January 2015 in the first trial.
Defense attorneys had argued Vandenburg and Batey should be found innocent because Batey was too drunk to make a conscious decision about his actions, and Vandenburg was too intoxicated to commit an assault.
Judge Monte Watkins declared a mistrial in June 2015 and set aside the convictions because one of the jurors had failed to disclose he himself had been a victim of rape. The men were assigned separate retrials.
Batey was convicted again in April, and sentencing was scheduled for July 13. Aggravated rape carries a prison sentence of 15 to 25 years. His attorneys have said they plan to appeal.
The trials of the other accused former football players, Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie and Brandon Banks, are expected to be held after Vandenburg’s retrial.
(Reporting by Tim Ghianni; Editing by Ben Klayman and Cynthia Osterman)