NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A former Vanderbilt University football player received the minimum sentence of 15 years in prison on Friday for the dorm room rape of an unconscious female student.
Brandon Banks was convicted of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery in the 2013 rape, which a teammate recorded and shared with friends in California.
Prosecutors had asked Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins for a longer prison term, but said they weren't surprised, given the judge's similar sentences for two other former players. Assistant prosecutor Jan Norman read a letter from the victim, requesting the toughest sentence allowed under law. In Tennessee, aggravated rape is punishable by 15 to 25 years in prison.
Banks blamed others for the 2013 rape and portrayed himself as the victim instead of taking responsibility, the victim wrote, noting that Banks even went to college campuses with rape charges pending against him, to give his perspective during sex-assault talks for male athletes.
"The only conclusion is that he either hasn't been paying attention to anything I've said or done over the last four years, or that he is doing it in spite of me and the pain he continues to cause," the victim wrote. "It doesn't matter how righteous he continues to feel, he is doing it against the will of the person he gang-raped in the first place."
Banks, now 23, appeared Friday in an orange prison jumpsuit. He admitted during his trial that he assaulted the woman with a water bottle, that he touched the woman and took photos during the assault.
The judge, who previously sentenced Brandon Vandenburg to 17 years and Cory Batey to 15 years for their roles in the attack, noted that Banks had no prior criminal record, and said he tries to "look at the entire individual" before sentencing.
Jaborian "Tip" McKenzie, the fourth former player charged, testified against his teammates in hopes of a favorable plea deal. Prosecutors say they will now focus on his case.
Though prosecutors had wanted a stiffer penalty, Norman said Banks' sentence reflects the violent crime he committed and he will be punished accordingly.
Four people spoke in support of Banks at his sentencing: his father; the man who reached out to him about speaking on college campuses; a longtime neighbor; and an official at Lane College, where Banks attended classes and played football after he was charged with rape.
Tyrone White, who speaks to college athletes about sexual assault, said Banks accepted his offer to discuss what he would have done differently.
"He said, 'I would be her hero,'" White testified — that he "wouldn't stand passively by and allow these things to happen."
Jurors could hear the players laughing in some of the videos. Evidence also included graphic photos taken by Banks. Prosecutors showed them to rebut Banks' argument that he feared he would get beaten up if he didn't join the assault.
Though the victim was not in court Friday, the June trial marked the fifth time she has testified about the 2013 rape.
The woman, who has no memory of the rape, testified before Batey and Vandenburg were first convicted in 2015. The verdicts were tossed because a juror did not reveal he was a victim of statutory rape, so she testified again, in separate trials for the two men last year. She spoke again at Batey's sentencing hearing and yet again during Banks' trial.
"She has made it through it, she has persevered, she has gotten stronger through every step of the way, and she continues to be strong," Norman told reporters. "These people that did this to her, they're not getting away with it, and it's because of her."