Former Calhoun High athletes plead not guilty in sexual assault case

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 October 23, 2014. (Staff Photo by Dan Henry)


View previous coverage of the Calhoun post-prom attack.

The former Calhoun High School athletes accused of sexually attacking a female classmate pleaded not guilty Monday morning.

Eight months after police say they took advantage of a girl during a post-prom party, Fields Benjamin Chapman, Andrew Isaac Haynes and Damon Avery Johnson appeared in Gilmer County Superior Court for their arraignments. All three told Judge Amanda Mercier that they did not commit a crime.

Monday's hearing moved the case one step closer to its culmination. But when will this case actually go before a jury?

"The trial is going to be way off," said defense attorney Steve Williams, who represents Haynes. "Now, I can't define what 'way off' means, but ... way off."

Williams said that he and the other defense attorneys met with Mercier and prosecutor Steve Spencer before Monday's hearing. They talked about the schedule for this case going forward. The lawyers on both sides need to share evidence with each other before going to trial.

Williams said that Spencer told him the state's evidence is extensive.

"Could be 50,000 pages of stuff," Williams said after the meeting. "I haven't seen it. But that's what the D.A. said."

Spencer did not return a call seeking comment late Monday afternoon.

The Gilmer County Sheriff's Office arrested Chapman, Haynes and Johnson in May, about two weeks after they attended an after-prom party at an Ellijay, Ga., cabin. Investigators say all three men penetrated the victim with their fingers at the same time, "causing bruising, swelling and lacerations to the sexual organs."

A grand jury indicted them on charges of aggravated sexual battery and sexual battery. Chapman and Haynes were also charged with sodomy. Combined, the three men face 10 life sentences in prison, plus an additional 351 years behind bars, if convicted.

The case drew national attention. Before graduating in May 2014, Chapman and Haynes played quarterback and wide receiver for the Calhoun Yellow Jackets, a football powerhouse that has reached the state championship in six of the last seven seasons -- including a 27-20 victory in the title game last month.

photo From left, Fields Chapman, Andrew Haynes and Avery Johnson

Johnson, meanwhile, signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Georgia Highlands College, though the school revoked the scholarship after his arrest.

Mercier was also supposed to hear arguments Monday on a motion for a gag order. Spencer filed the motion in August, asking Mercier to ban anyone involved in the case from speaking publicly. He argued that defense attorneys were trying to ruin the case by telling multiple media outlets that the prosecution's evidence is not strong.

But on Friday afternoon, Spencer withdrew that motion, writing that the defense attorneys have stopped talking to the press as much as they were when the arrests first occurred.

Monday's hearing comes six weeks after Mercier rejected another motion by Spencer. The prosecutor asked the judge to ban Williams from representing Haynes. Spencer said that Williams' representation was a conflict of interest.

That's because the key witness in the case is a man named Rhett Harper. And Harper is represented by an attorney named Sam Sanders. And Sanders works at the same law firm as Williams.

Spencer argued that two lawyers at the same law firm should be treated like one lawyer. And because Harper is the prosecution's witness, one law firm can't represent him and Haynes, a defendant.

Williams said Spencer is wrong. He said that Harper's testimony will actually help the defense, not the state.

Mercier agreed.

"At no point did Harper's testimony appear to be antagonistic to Haynes," she wrote. "While this could certainly change, at this point there is no evidence that Harper's testimony will create a conflict with Haynes."

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