The Ramifications of the Vanderbilt Rape Trial

On the night of June 23, 2013, a 21-year-old female Vanderbilt University student was drinking at a local bar. Her boyfriend of just a few weeks, Brandon Vandenburg, who was a football player at the college, had given her a blue drink, which was laced with a date-rape drug. This female student doesn’t remember anything between drinking the blue drink at the bar and waking up in an unfamiliar room at 8 something the next morning.

Several people stood by and watched while Vandenburg, who was driving the victim around Nashville in her own Mercedes-Benz, pulled the unconscious woman from the vehicle and he and three of his teammates, Cory Batey, Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie, dragged and carried her into Gillette House, into the elevator and then down a hallway to Vandenburg’s room. Sadly, this young woman was victimized, sexually assaulted, and raped for 30 minutes in Vandenburg’s dorm room while she was unconscious.

According to court testimony, as published by several media outlets, Vandenburg dragged the young woman out of an elevator, dumped her on the floor and took several photographs of the unconscious woman. He and one of the players carried the young woman to Vandenberg’s dorm room and, within minutes, Batey began sexually assaulting the woman with his fingers. One of the men penetrated the woman’s anus with a water bottle while Vandenburg cheered on his fellow teammates with lewd comments and, as testimony proved, handed out condoms to the other players, slapped the woman’s buttocks, and claimed he could not have sex with her because he could not get an erection.

Vandenburg filmed the sexual assault on his own cellphone and sent the video to two of his closest friends. There were several photographs of the assault taken on different cellphones as well. A fifth man, Vandenburg’s roommate and fellow football player Chris Boyd, was in the dorm room during the commission of the crime and told authorities he was sleeping during the attack on the young woman.

Rumors of the rape quickly spread around the Vanderbilt campus, but no crime was reported. School authorities, on the hunt for the identity of the person(s) who vandalized a door in Gillette House that same weekend of the sexual assault, discovered video surveillance of an unconscious woman being carried to a dorm room by four men. The university then contacted the police, who eventually tracked down digital evidence of the rape.

The surveillance footage from the hallway outside of Vandenburg’s dorm room in Gillette House, as seen on ABC News’ 20/20, shows the four players entering the room with the unconscious woman and all the men quickly leaving the room a half-hour later, with a few exiting the dorm floor altogether. Surveillance shows Vandenburg, dressed only in a pair of shorts and slip-on sandals, exiting his room to make a few phone calls. Minutes later, four or five more football players showed up and entered Vandenburg’s room, where the unconscious victim was still being held.

Vandenberg sent his video of the sexual assault to two of his childhood friends in his home state of California, Joey Quinzio and Miles Finley. On the night of the attack, Finley sent Vandenburg text messages about the video after he received and viewed it. These messages were graphic, lewd and suggesting a vile sexual act be performed on the unconscious young woman. A half hour after the attack, Vandenburg called Finley and left a voicemail that said, “I am in deep shit. You have to help me.”

In the course of their investigation, Metro Nashville city detectives flew to California to confront Quinzio and Finley about the video. Finley told detectives he had dropped his cellphone in a pool, that it had been damaged and that he had gotten a replacement iPhone after throwing away the broken phone. Quinzio claimed his phone had been stolen but had never bothered to report the theft to the authorities or to Apple, who could have shut the stolen phone off. When asked about the lewd text messages sent on the night of the assault, Finley told detectives he had been joking in those text messages.

The disappearance of these two cellphones would not matter in the end as Quinzio’s cellphone automatically synched the assault video to his computer’s hard drive, which is where detectives would find their star witness in a rape trial that would begin 19 months after the attack was filmed. During the investigation, detectives would discover text messages about the video and its removal on several cellphones, which revealed the depth of the cover-up of the assault by the four former football players, Vandenburg’s roommate and the two men in California. Vandenburg would later use his own cellphone to Google, “Can police retrieve deleted picture messages?”

One of the detectives investigating the case said about the video, “We just recovered the worst nightmare for this victim.” The video shows Banks taking “intimate and inappropriate photographs” of the unconscious victim’s body, and Banks and Batey using their hands and the water bottle to penetrate the victim. According to investigators, Vandenburg can be heard in the video “giggling and egging the others on.”

Metro Nashville city detectives showed Vandenburg’s video of the assault to the young woman, who did not remember any details of the crime. This was the first time in both detectives’ long careers in which the evidence showed itself before the victim reported the crime. When interviewed by the police, the victim said she could not remember anything of the night before after being at the bar and that she had felt no pain the next morning that would have alerted her that she had been possibly assaulted. She told police that Vandenburg told her that she had been drunk, had passed out and vomited, and that he had to take care of her that June night. She said she was embarrassed by that and apologized to Vandenburg for her actions.

The victim’s ex-boyfriend, who was a football player on the same team as Vandenburg, reached out to the victim after hearing rumors of “disturbing things” that may have occurred that night in Vandenburg’s dorm room. The ex-boyfriend advised the victim, “Something may have happened to you this weekend that you may have not recollected.” He told detectives he was appalled by what he was hearing in the locker room about the night of the assault.

McKenzie would eventually turn on the other three assailants in police interviews. With his cooperation and the existence of the video taken on the night of the assault, prosecutors would be able to charge the four men with their crimes. Vandenburg and Bates had a recent joint-trial with different attorneys representing the men. Banks and McKenzie are to be tried in the future.

Vandenburg’s roommate Boyd has been indicted for “allegedly trying to help four of his former teammates engineer a cover-up in the case,” according to ABC News. Boyd faces one felony count of being an accessory after the fact. The New York Times reported that Boyd “had been awakened by the commotion” of the assault, “had seen the woman lying motionless on the floor and heard one of the men say he would have sex with her.” Finley and Quinzio have both been arrested and charged with one felony count each of tampering with evidence.

Metro Nashville Police Department Chief Steve Anderson told ABC News, “We are looking at all persons who may have been involved in this event, before, during and after the fact. Additional charges cannot be ruled out.”

The victim’s roommate would wake the morning after the assault to find the victim’s shoe on the grass next to her parked car. The roommate did not alert authorities despite the oddness of this situation. During the subsequent trial of Vandenburg and Batey, the roommate testified that she took a photo of what appeared to be a reddened imprint of a hand along with unexplained bruising on the victim’s buttocks. Neither the roommate nor the victim contacted authorities even after this unusual discovery. Detectives told ABC News that for some time the victim was in denial that Vandenburg would “do this” to her.

Vanderbilt University eventually kicked all four of the football players charged with the rape and sexual assault of the victim off the team and out of the school prior to the start of the trial of Vandenburg and Batey.

The rape and sexual assault lasted 30 minutes, and the trial of Vandenburg and Batey would last 12 days. Their attorneys used the defense that the two men were “too intoxicated” to know right from wrong. Vandenburg’s attorney argued that his client was only guilty of taking inappropriate photographs. In just three hours, a jury found Vandenburg and Batey guilty of four counts of aggravated rape, one count of attempted aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. In addition, Vandenburg was found guilty of tampering with evidence and unlawful photography in connection with the video of the assault that he took and distributed to his friends.

Vandenburg and Batey are scheduled to be sentenced on March 6, and face decades in prison for their crimes.

Tennessee law is written in such a way that the jury in this case was able to convict Vandenburg on all charges despite the lack of physical evidence that he had actually sexually assaulted or raped the victim. This interpretation of the law in Tennessee allows juries to hold a person who masterminds a crime as equally accountable for that crime as those who actually physically commit the crime. Vandenburg’s actions to cover up the assault and how he treated the victim after the crime occurred was factored into the jury finding as well.

Defense attorneys for Vandenburg and Batey are asking that the guilty verdict be vacated because one juror did not reveal to the courts during jury selection that he or she had been a victim of statutory rape 15 years ago in which the perpetrator was sentenced to 12 months in jail and 60 months of probation for the crime. Legal experts have voiced their opinion that this had nothing to do with the case and that the juror did not have to reveal that information as it is irrelevant to the finding of the guilty verdict in light of the very clear video evidence presented in court.

The Vanderbilt rape case brings many issues concerning campus rape to light. There were at least half a dozen, if not more, people who saw the victim in possible harm’s way and did nothing. There were additional students who knew about the assault after the fact, and yet still did not report the crime to authorities. Perhaps this case will convince institutions of higher learning to create a strict policy for how to address and punish students who do not report possible and actual crimes on campus. Ending campus rape will never happen if students are allowed to continually cover-up these attacks.

The defense of “too intoxicated” or “boys will be boys” will be repeatedly dragged through our court systems as that is just part of a good defense strategy in the American right to a fair trial. At the same time, the defense attorneys should stop with such bullshit tactics as an excuse for criminal behavior as this just further escalates the notion that a perpetrator of a sexual and/or violent crime is given justification for his or her actions simply because he or she was using drugs or alcohol at the time a crime was committed. The jury verdict in the Vanderbilt case helps prove that intoxication is not a viable defense for criminal recklessness and deviance and that criminals under the influence will still be held accountable for their actions.

The only physical evidence in this case was the video Vandenburg took, the photographs taken that night, video surveillance and the text messages between the football players and their friends who knew of the crime. Investigators across the country need to be trained in ways to effectively find and preserve this type of technological evidence in all criminal cases, especially in those of a sexual nature. Teaching our investigators how to follow digital footprints is a good thing in our ever-evolving technological age.

The guilty verdict in the Vanderbilt case could bring about the country-wide passing of laws that are similar to those in Tennessee which will hold criminal masterminds just as accountable as those who commit the actual crimes. This could in turn positively influence how sexual crimes, especially campus rapes, are handled by prosecutors because more people could be held accountable in these cases without adding an extra burden of proof. In a simple explanation, with laws similar to Tennessee’s prosecutors will be able to charge the person who spikes a drink with a date-rape drug with the actual rape, even in the face of limited physical evidence.

If the judge decides to vacate the guilty verdict in the Vanderbilt rape case because of the juror whom experienced statutory rape 15 years ago, this situation will just give more power to the perpetrators of sexual and violent crimes. The judge in this case needs to stand firm by the guilty verdict, which will send the message that experiencing a rape in the past does not mean a juror is incapable of making sound, intelligent decisions with 11 of his or her peers. This juror should not have to be re-victimized by having to relive his or his rape experience because the defense thinks that is an ok strategy for their obviously guilty client. This juror’s past has nothing to do with the atrocious behavior of the men involved in the rape and assault of an unconscious 21-year-old woman and their cover-up of the crimes they committed.

The Vanderbilt University rape victim in this case was a neuroscience and economics major at the time of the attack. She would go on to graduate from Vanderbilt before enrolling at a different university where is now studying for a PhD in neuroscience. Prosecutors read a statement from the young woman, who sat through every day of the trial and who testified in court against her assailants. She thanked the prosecutors, detectives and victims’ advocates, calling them “heroes.”

“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,” she said in her written statement.

Beth Fortune, Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor of academic affairs, told the New York Times that sexual violence at the school will never be tolerated.

“Incidents will be investigated, victims will be supported and perpetrators will be punished,” Fortune stated.

This is a good attitude for all college campuses to adopt as a recent study by the Justice Department found that “80 percent of campus rapes went unreported between 1995 and 2013, compared to 67 percent in the general population.”

The media that covered the Vanderbilt rape case from beginning to end and that will cover it in the days ahead have all preserved the victim’s privacy and have not revealed her identity, which gives her the valuable opportunity to be a survivor instead of always being a victim.

Sources for this blog include ABC News, 20/20, The New York Times, The Tennessean, Time, and Google.



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