NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A prosecutor told jurors Tuesday that a group of former Vanderbilt football players ruined the life of a promising young neuroscience student when they raped her in a dorm in January 2013.
In opening statements, Deputy District Attorney General Tom Thurman told jurors that the former players giggled, shot video and sent text messages while they sexually abused her in an assault that began in a hallway. He described in sometimes explicit language how one former player assaulted her with a water bottle while a teammate egged him on. The prosecutor said one of the players passed out condoms and assaulted her.
"And after hearing all the proof you will be convinced they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, Thurman said.
Four former players are accused of raping the unconscious coed in a dorm on the Nashville campus in June 2013. All have pleaded not guilty.
The trial begins amid a roiling national debate about the prevalence of rapes at U.S. colleges and universities, with investigations under way at dozens of colleges around the country and the Obama administration launching its own campaign to end sexual assault on America's campuses.
Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey are being tried this week on five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. Vandenburg is also charged with one count of tampering with evidence and one count of unlawful photography.
Batey's attorney told jurors that his client was so drunk that he blacked out that night. He said the evidence would show that his client is innocent but others abused the woman.
One of Vandenburg's attorneys called the prosecutor's statements "inflammatory" and said evidence would show that his client was not responsible for what someone else did to the woman.
Some widely publicized sexual assault investigations involving student-athletes have heightened the focus on sexual assaults at college. Florida State Quarterback Jameis Winston was cleared last month of violating the school's code of conduct in relation to allegations that he sexually assaulted a student in 2012. Winston had adamantly denied the allegations.
In Knoxville, two University of Tennessee football players were suspended from the team last year after a fellow student accused them of sexual assault. No charges have been filed against them.
A woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted by three University of Oregon basketball players filed a federal lawsuit last week against the school and the men's basketball coach. The three students had been kicked off the team in April.