Jury finds former Vanderbilt football player guilty of rape
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A jury on Friday convicted a former Vanderbilt University football player charged along with three of his teammates in the 2013 gang rape of an unconscious female student.
After about 15 hours of deliberation over two days, the jury found Brandon Banks guilty of one count of aggravated rape and one count of aggravated sexual battery. He was found not guilty on five other counts.
“He’s shocked but understands that this is only the first part of this process, there’s a lot more to do from here on,” Banks’ lawyer, Mark Scruggs, told The Tennessean after the verdict. “We have some really good issues to raise.”
Prosecutors leaned on graphic photos and videos, some shot by Banks and others by his teammates, to rebut the 23-year-old’s argument that he feared he would get beat up if he didn’t participate in the assault.
The players were encouraging each other, laughing and smiling, prosecutors said. Banks contended that if he didn’t join in, he would face a beating — if not right away, then at practice or some other time. He said a player “can’t escape that football atmosphere.”
Assistant District Attorney Roger Moore said during the trial that Banks made a choice to participate. He also left the woman lying on the ground in the hallway in the early morning hours, “like a piece of trash laid out for the garbage collectors to pick up,” Moore said.
“Making fun of another person is not right, but we know it happens,” Moore said in closing arguments, referring to Banks’ bullying allegations. “But it doesn’t give you a legal defense to commit a crime, particularly not an aggravated rape, an aggravated sexual battery. I mean if that’s the case, then we’d have the ‘football team defense.’”
In his testimony, Banks said teammates had long bullied him because he was smaller, and called him gay because had a girlfriend and didn’t rack up a “body count” of women he slept with at college.
Defense lawyer Scruggs added that Banks was “clearly under duress.”
“He is the classic example of someone who has been abused by a group, whether it be a football team, a fraternity, or any other group nowadays, that requires complete loyalty, complete obedience,” Scruggs said.
After the verdict, Moore said prosecutors were satisfied: “I think it shows when they got down to it, they found Mr. Banks guilty of the acts that he himself committed without regard to anyone else.”
One count of aggravated rape carries a minimum prison sentence of 15 years.
Teammate Brandon Vandenburg was sentenced to 17 years in prison in June 2016 for his role in the rape. Cory Batey, another teammate, received a 15-year sentence in April 2016. And Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie, the fourth former player charged, has testified against his teammates in hopes of a favorable plea deal.
McKenzie confirmed a video showed Banks, his friend, assault the woman with a water bottle. On the stand, Banks later confirmed his use of the bottle, and said he touched the woman and took photos.
The trial also marked the fifth time the victim has testified about the 2013 rape.
She testified when Batey and Vandenburg were first convicted in 2015, but the verdicts were tossed because a juror did not reveal he was a victim of statutory rape. She testified in separate trials for the two men last year. Then she spoke again at Batey’s sentencing hearing.
She testified that, as a 21-year-old, she had been dating Vandenburg, one of the men involved in the rape, but didn’t know the other three at all. She said her last memory on the night of the assault in June 2013 was Vandenburg giving her a blue drink to try at the bar.
Only two of the men were accused of raping her, but all four were charged with it because prosecutors held them criminally responsible based on their actions that night.