Key observer testifies that the sex in the Calhoun High battery case was '100% consensual'

Prosecutors say his statement is tainted

View a timeline and our coverage of the Calhoun post-prom attack.

photo Avery Johnson, Fields Chapman, and Andrew Haynes, from left, converse during a break while in Gilmer County Superior Court Judge Amanda H. Mercier's courtroom on Thursday. The three are defendants in a sexual battery case from a Calhoun High School post prom party earlier this year.

ELLIJAY, Ga. - In the case of whether three former Calhoun High School students had sex with a female classmate against her will, Rhett Harper is the key witness.

Besides the defendants and the alleged victim, Harper was the only person in the room during an alleged attack at a post-prom party last May. He says he saw everything.

But whose side is he on? Defense attorneys and prosecutors in the sexual battery case tried to sort that out during a pretrial hearing in Gilmer County Superior Court on Thursday.

Testifying for the first time in the case, Harper told the court that, in the early morning hours of May 11, he walked into a bedroom and saw Fields Benjamin Chapman and Andrew Isaac Haynes having sex with the victim. He then watched Haynes leave and Damon Avery Johnson take his place.

"And you continued to stay?" Assistant District Attorney Steve Spencer asked him.

"Yes," Harper said.

"And you continued to observe?"

"Yes," he said.

Harper then testified that the sexual acts among Chapman, Haynes, Johnson and the victim were "100 percent consensual." But prosecutors don't believe Harper. They think he is lying, and they blame the defense attorneys.

Sam Sanders represents Harper. Sanders also works at the same Dalton law firm as Steve Williams, who represents Haynes. Prosecutors believe that Sanders and Williams have influenced Harper's testimony, and they have asked Superior Court Judge Amanda Mercier to disqualify Williams from the case.

"They have chosen to push their story one way," Assistant District Attorney Michael George said of Sanders and Williams. "They have chosen to represent both clients. That is a conflict."

Williams maintains that there is no such conflict. He said Harper's testimony doesn't support the prosecutors; it supports the defense.

He testified that the sex was consensual.

Mercier did not rule on the prosecution's motion to dismiss Williams at Thursday's hearing. She said she will need time to digest both arguments. She did not say when she will make a ruling.

Thursday marked the first pretrial hearing in the case. Mercier has not yet set a trial date.

On May 28, about three weeks after Calhoun High School's prom, the Gilmer County Sheriff's Office arrested Chapman, Haynes and Johnson on charges of aggravated sexual battery. If convicted, the three men each could go to prison for 25 years.

The arrests sparked national headlines because of their similarities to other prominent criminal cases involving young athletes in small towns. Chapman and Haynes played football at Calhoun High, a team that reached the state championship in five of the last six seasons.

Johnson, meanwhile, had committed to playing baseball at Georgia Highlands College. He has since lost his scholarship.

Before the arrests, some local citizens protested the alleged crime, saying they believed the police would ignore the case because of the three suspects' athletic achievements. Harper, who attended Southeast Whitfield High School but was at the Calhoun party, said Tuesday that members of the community accused him of taking part in the crime.

He said some boys told his friends that they were going to beat him with baseball bats. Harper, who was his class' valedictorian, said he exited Southeast Whitfield High School through a back door after walking across the stage at his graduation, in case someone planned to attack him.

On Thursday, Harper testified that Gilmer County Detective Kirk Champion interviewed him three times in May. Harper hired Sanders as his attorney after the second interview.

And that, prosecutors say, is when everything changed.

They say that Harper was originally going to testify against Chapman, Haynes and Johnson. They say Harper told detectives that the boys penetrated the victim somewhat forcefully, and the next morning he found a puddle of blood on the bedspread about the size of a football.

They even say his initial assessment of the incident was the opposite of what he testified Thursday: "That don't happen just from consensual sex," he supposedly told the detective.

But Sanders pushed back Thursday. He said Harper only gave different information in the third interview (with Sanders present) because he had more time to reflect on what happened, which he said often happens with witnesses. Sanders also said Harper's initial assessment of the incident was taken out of context.

Sanders said police set Harper up for that statement: Before he gave his opinion about what happened, investigators told him that the victim suffered severe injuries.

"Somebody told him it looked like someone took a sledgehammer to her," Sanders said to Mercier.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at or at 423-757-6476.

Previous news report: