Originally created 08/25/02

Jury acquits UGA athlete



ATHENS, Ga. - The sordid events of a January night in a McWhorter Hall dorm room repulsed a Clarke County jury, but the facts surrounding the incident weren't enough for jurors to return a rape conviction against University of Georgia football player Brandon Williams.

Mr. Williams, 21, sobbed openly when a verdict of innocent on all counts was announced in Clarke County Superior Court on Friday night. He faced a minimum of 10 years in prison for a rape conviction.

The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for about 2 1/2 hours before returning the verdict, which also found Mr. Williams innocent of aggravated assault with intent to commit rape and aggravated sexual battery.

"We prayed before we began deliberations, and we prayed after we deliberated," jury foreman Dr. Farris Johnson said.

In the end, the jury found too much reasonable doubt to convict, he said.

"We knew there were things that went on that were morally wrong," Dr. Johnson said. "But when there was a doubt, we thought it was morally wrong to ruin someone's life."

The verdict might have wider implications in the pending felony cases of basketball players Steve Thomas and Tony Cole, both charged in connection with the incident in Mr. Cole's dorm room.

After the verdict, Kim Stephens, Mr. Williams' attorney, said a burden had been lifted off his client, a junior from Moss Point, Miss., who has been suspended from the football team since a grand jury indicted him on the charges in April.

"Now, hopefully, he can get on with his life and it won't have any stigma," Mr. Stephens said.

Mr. Williams' future with the team remains uncertain. He played limited time in 10 games as a backup last year.

Head football coach Mark Richt said Mr. Williams' standing with the team is pending until he consults with UGA President Michael Adams and athletic director Vince Dooley.

"All I want to comment on now is that I'm happy for Brandon," Mr. Richt said.

District Attorney Ken Mauldin declined to comment on how the other cases might be affected by the verdict, citing his policy of not talking publicly outside the courtroom about pending matters.

As for the verdict, Mr. Mauldin said, "I've always had a great belief in the jury system, and I certainly respect the decision of the jury as the arbiter of facts."

Mr. Mauldin delivered an impassioned closing argument to the jury, saying the law didn't require a woman to cry out or try to beat off an attacker during an assault to make it rape.

Some family members of the young woman expressed outrage at the verdict, shouting after jurors in the courthouse halls as they left.

"He was in the damn closet!" one man yelled toward jurors. "He raped her!"

Mr. Williams' attorney, Kim Stephens, told the jury in his closing argument that the woman's story didn't make sense and said she failed to exhibit behavior of a rape victim during the incident.