Actions

Judge Declares Mistrial In Vanderbilt Rape Case

CORP-Digital-Default-Image-1280x720-WTVF.png
Posted at 9:10 PM, Jun 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-09 01:29:22-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Judge Monte Watkins declared a mistrial Tuesday afternoon in the case of two former Vanderbilt football players convicted of raping a fellow student.

Defense attorneys for Brandon Vandenburg and Corey Batey brought the mistrial motion before the court, saying the two didn't get a fair trial because a jury member failed to disclose the fact that he had been a victim of statutory rape.

Attorneys questioned the honesty of former jury foreman Todd Easter. During jury selection, Easter failed to disclose that when he was 16-years-old, he was in a consensual relationship with a 23-year-old man. When Easter's parents found out, the man was charged with statutory rape -- technically making Easter a victim.

None of this though was ever conveyed during jury selection. Defense attorneys argued in no way would they have allowed the 31-year-old to be a juror.

In today's ruling Judge Watkins concluded:

Voir dire is an old French term meaning "to speak the truth," the Court fids that Juror #9 failed to do just that. The defendants have a right to a fair and impartial trial, a right that was violated by Juror # 9's misconduct. By failing to disclose the named victim in a twenty three count stautory indictment, the presumption of jury bias was met. A reasonable person asked the questions as asked to the other jurors and Juror # 9 himself, were obligated to give this information. Juror # 9's credibility has been tainted and brought a presumption of bias to the jury. Considering all of the circumstances outlined herin, actual bias has been clearly shown. Our system of justice cannot tolerate a trial with a tainted juror regardless of the strength of the evidence against the defendant. Faulkner, 154 S.W.3d at 215. Applying the above legal standard and looking at the totality of the circumstances, the Court finds that the proof and arguments presented at the hearing provides enough evidence that granting a new trial is necessary and appropriate in order to promote a fair determination of the defendants' guilt or innocence. Therefor, the defendants' motion is respectfully GRANTED. 

You can read the entire order from the Judge Watkins here.

Now that the ruling has been made, Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, who the jury convicted of multiple counts of aggravated rape and sexual assault, could be set free. Both men along with their attorneys will appear in court Wednesday at 9 a.m. to request that their original bonds be reinstated.

NewsChannel 5 will be in the courtroom Wednesday for gavel-to-gavel coverage on NewsChannel 5 Plus and on NewsChannel5.com .

Tuesday afternoon District Attorney Glen Funk's office released this statement:

“We respect the judge’s decision. This was an issue that fortunately does not come up very often. It serves to strike home the importance of the jury selection process. This Office will be requesting that a new trial date be set as soon as possible. This ruling does not, in any way, affect the evidence that exists; nor does it affect the state’s resolve to vigorously pursue justice in this matter. Justice may be delayed but it will not be denied. Anything further will be addressed in court.”

Metro Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson also released a statement Tuesday. He said:

“The resolve of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department to seek justice on behalf of the courageous victim in this case is as strong today as when the investigation began. Lead detectives Jason Mayo, Chad Gish and Sgt. Mike Shreeve, along with the men and women of the police department who supported them, will absolutely be prepared to again present their findings in future legal proceedings as necessary.”

NewsChannel 5 legal analyst Nick Leonardo said he has never seen a case or a mistrial like this one.

“As attorneys we want to ensure the people who sit on these jury's are the right people that can be fair an impartial,” said Leonardo. He continued, “Sure it's a devastating blow but it's not the district attorney's fault, it's not the defenses fault and it's not the court's fault.” 

As for the jury foreman, Todd Easter, he could now face perjury charges for lying under oath and the young woman at the center of this rape case will possibly have to sit through another grueling trial.

 

Kathy Walsh, Executive Director of the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence said, "I think its very traumatizing for a victim of sexual assault when they have to go through the trial process. When you think about having to live that again in another trial, it's unfathomable."

Walsh added the mistrial ruling could also have an impact on other victims.

"It's disappointing," said Walsh. "I think it could have a chilling effect on other victims of sexual assault who were considering coming forward. It may cause them to lose faith in the system."

Walsh says she encourages victims of sexual assault or domestic violence to reach out for help. You find help and resources for victims at http://www.tncoalition.org/.