published Monday, June 30th, 2014

Prosecutors seek contempt of court against defense in Vanderbilt rape case

NASHVILLE — Prosecutors representing a woman who was allegedly raped by four former Vanderbilt University football players asked a judge Monday to charge defense attorneys with criminal contempt of court for releasing personal information about the victim.

Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman said during a court hearing that the defense attorneys violated the state's rape shield law when they filed a motion of more than 100 pages that contained what should have been private information about the rape victim, such as her name, photos, medical records and Twitter account.

"There's absolutely no rational explanation that would be done, other than to intimidate the victim," Norman said.

Defense attorneys say they did nothing wrong, and that some of the information was public record.

The hearing Monday was for former football player Brandon Vandenburg, one of the players accused of gang raping a student in a campus dorm last June. Vandenburg, 20, is charged with five counts of aggravated rape, two counts of aggravated sexual battery, unlawful photography and tampering with evidence. All the defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Vandenburg's defense attorney, Fletcher Long, told reporters after the hearing that the defense is simply developing the evidentiary record needed to "exonerate ... a man who's wrongly accused."

"They can throw barbs at us if they choose, but that's not going to impact the level of defense that we're going to give this man," Long said.

The case has grown increasingly rancorous, with the defense and prosecution trading allegations of misconduct.

The defense has filed a motion asking that charges against Vandenburg be dismissed and accusing prosecutors of intentionally concealing evidence from the defense.

During Monday's hearing, the defense claimed that missing video footage from Vanderbilt campus cameras had been removed and there were other missing items, including texts from the phone of the alleged victim.

"Things ... just disappeared," said defense attorney Albert Perez.

However, prosecutors say the allegations are unfounded.

"Obviously, there was a lot of negative publicity against the district attorney's office," said Deputy D.A. Tom Thurman. "When it was time to put on proof, there was none."

Vandenburg's trial is scheduled for August. Meanwhile, defense attorneys say they plan to make more filings in their request for dismissal, and Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins has agreed to hear them later.

In an earlier filing, the defense said the alleged victim told detectives that then-Vanderbilt coach James Franklin contacted the woman days after the alleged assault, telling her "they cared about her" because she assisted with recruiting. The paperwork didn't elaborate.

The legal filing also had stated, "Coach Franklin called her in for a private meeting and told her he wanted her to get 15 pretty girls together and form a team to assist with the recruiting even though he knew it was against the rules."

Franklin, who is now football coach at Penn State, issued a denial.

"The allegations that I did something wrong are simply not true," he said in a written statement, adding he has fully cooperated with authorities.

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