Where are the '50,000 pages of evidence' in Calhoun High after-prom sexual battery case?

One year later, victims and defendants still waiting

Staff File Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free PressAvery 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. The three are defendants in a sexual battery case from a Calhoun High School's post prom party earlier this year. On July 7, a Gilmer County grand jury indicted 18-year-old Andrew Isaac Haynes on a count of sodomy, based on evidence that Haynes performed oral sex against the will of a female student during a post-prom party. The grand jury also indicted 18-year-olds Fields Benjamin Chapman and Damon Avery Johnson on other charges in the case.

More than a year after a prom party became a crime scene, Calhoun High School students are still waiting for closure.

A judge has not set trial dates for the cases of Fields Benjamin Chapman, Andrew Isaac Haynes or Damon Avery Johnson, three men whom the Gilmer County Sheriff's Office charged with sexual battery in May 2014. The former Calhoun High students are accused of penetrating a female classmate in the hours after prom at a party in an Ellijay, Ga., cabin.

For the last five months, however, the case has sat frozen. After the men pleaded not guilty in January, two of the three defense attorneys say a prosecutor told them he was going to give them 50,000 pages of evidence.

They still have not received anything.

"We're not any further down the road sitting here on June 5 than we were on Jan. 5," said Jesse Vaughn, who represents Johnson.

Though he won't know until he sees the evidence, Vaughn believes most of the prosecutors' documents will come from the students' cellphone data - copies of their text messages, their call logs, their pictures. He believes the investigators pulled information off the phones of almost all of the 20-something teenagers at the party.

Vaughn said he has never defended a client in a case with this much evidence, assuming the prosecutors actually turn over 50,000 pages. He came close last year, when he represented a client in an embezzlement case that featured tens of thousands of documents.

"But it didn't take this long to put [the evidence] together," he said.

Steve Williams, who represents Haynes, has also never worked a case with this much paperwork.

"I've never heard of that," he said. "It's just inconceivable to me. Once we get [the documents] it's going to take a long time to go through all that stuff. It's an extremely long, detailed, tedious job to go through all that information. But you can't get to the end of the road until you get to the first step. That's where we are."

Because many of the witnesses are now spread throughout the country at their colleges, Williams believes the case won't go to trial until they can all return to North Georgia. That might not happen until next summer.

Appalachian District Attorney Alison Sosebee and Assistant District Attorney Steve Spencer did not return calls seeking comment on Tuesday.

Bobby Lee Cook, who said he represents the victim in this case, told the Times Free Press that she has tried to move on with her life since the incident last year. He declined to say whether he plans to file a civil lawsuit.

"She's doing pretty well," he said. "She's in school. I don't want to talk about the case, though."

Both Johnson and Haynes lost scholarships after their arrests last year. Their attorneys said Haynes remains in Calhoun and Johnson in Dalton.

Johnson, a former Calhoun High shortstop and pitcher, was supposed to play baseball at Georgia Highlands College, but the school pulled his scholarship last summer. Vaughn said that his client enrolled in the school anyway.

He went to classes and played on the baseball team last fall, Vaughn said. But upon receiving a complaint, the college's athletic director and president told him he couldn't play anymore. Vaughn said he didn't know who complained.

A school spokeswoman said Johnson attended classes in the fall and spring but is no longer enrolled. She declined to say why Johnson left, citing federal privacy laws. The Georgia Highlands baseball website shows no sign of Johnson.

Williams, meanwhile, said Mercer University rescinded Haynes' academic scholarship. A school spokesman said he could not comment on any financial offers to a student.

George Weaver, the attorney for Chapman, did not return a call seeking an update on what his client has done for the past year.

The arrests of Chapman, Johnson and Haynes drew national attention last summer, in part because the three men were athletes from a small town with successful sports teams. Since 2008, the Calhoun Yellow Jackets have reached the football state championship six times in seven years - including victories in 2011 and 2014.

Before graduating last year, Chapman played quarterback and Haynes played wide receiver.

On May 10, police said, about 25 high school students attended a party after prom in a gated community in Ellijay and four men went into a bedroom with an 18-year-old girl.

Police say the three men all penetrated the girl with their fingers against her will, causing "bruising, swelling and lacerations." She told an investigator she later passed out in the bathroom.

In August, a grand jury indicted the men on two counts of aggravated sexual battery, five counts of aggravated battery, two counts of sexual battery and one count of public indecency

The grand jury indicted Chapman and Haynes on an additional aggravated sexual battery charge for being "parties to the crime." They also indicted Johnson on a charge of sodomy.

Combined, the three men face 10 life sentences - plus an additional 351 years in prison.

In October, a witness to at least some of the alleged crime told a judge during a pretrial hearing that what he watched was "100 percent consensual." Rhett Harper, who played baseball for Georgia State this spring, said he was in the room when the men penetrated the victim.

Prosecutors, however, say Harper's testimony is tainted. They said he initially told investigators that the interaction was not consensual but changed his mind when he hired an attorney, who works at the same law office as Haynes' attorney.

Sam Sanders, Harper's lawyer, said his client changed his version of events only slightly - something that is common in criminal investigations. And, he added, Harper only said the penetration was not consensual when police told them the victim's injuries were severe, something all the defense attorneys dispute.

Both sides say the truth will come out in a trial, one day.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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