A former football player at Vanderbilt University is on trial this week for allegedly taking part in the 2013 rape of an unconscious female student along with three teammates — but his defense attorney argued in court that one of the other men “was pressuring” him.
Brandon Banks, now 23, is the third of the four to go on trial, following the prosecutions of teammates Cory Batey and Brandon Vandenburg. Both of them were convicted of the rape and are in prison.
Like them, Banks has been charged with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery, to which he pleaded not guilty.
Vandenburg was convicted on those seven counts as well as unlawful photography, while Batey was found guilty of one count of aggravated rape and the two aggravated sexual battery counts. A jury also found him guilty of lesser charges on the other three aggravated rape counts, instead convicting him of another count of aggravated sexual battery as well as attempted aggravated rape and facilitation of aggravated rape.
Their former teammate Jaborian McKenzie is awaiting trial on the same charges. He has pleaded not guilty but has testified against the three others at their trials, reportedly in hopes of getting a plea deal.
During Monday’s opening statements, Banks’ attorney Katie Hagan acknowledged the photos and videos that show her client allegedly participating, at one point sexually assaulting the woman with a water bottle. But she argued that he was acting under duress at the time.
“Mr. Vandenburg was pressuring and goading Mr. Banks,” Hagan said.
(The Tennessean reports that Vandenberg previously told police something similar but in reverse, claiming that though he did not rape the woman, he was pressured by the others into having sex with her the next day to cover up DNA evidence.)
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“You are going to see some things in these photographs and the videos about Brandon Banks that are going to make you mad at him, and they are going to make you dislike him,” Hagan told the jury in her opening. “But despite those things, the proof in this case will show that Brandon Banks is not guilty of the crimes that he is charged with in this indictment.”
However, prosecutor Jan Norman argued to jurors that Banks was a willing participant in the woman’s assault and said that of the 41 known photos of the incident, 23 of them were found on Banks’ cellphone.
“They’re memorializing each other’s accomplishments in that room — what they were doing, what they were cheering each other on to do, what they were encouraging each other to do,” she said.
‘You Will Never Understand What This Has Done to Me’
On Tuesday, Vanderbilt police Capt. Donnie Harville testified in Banks’ trial. He narrated a surveillance video that appeared to show the foursome taking the unconscious woman into a dorm on the Nashville, Tennessee, campus about 2:30 a.m. on June 23, 2013.
An assistant dean of student conduct, G.L. Black, also testified that he interviewed Banks after the rape. Black claimed that Banks denied sexually assaulting the woman but admitted to placing a towel under her face in case she got sick.
According to Black’s testimony, Banks told him that he, Batey, McKenzie and Vandenburg hung out in the dorm, but then went to bed. Photos and videos were later recovered by investigators that contradicted this account.
Prosecutors said the victim will testify again, as she has at the previous trials.
According to the Tennessean, the woman graduated from Vanderbilt following her assault. She spoke at a sentencing last year, the paper reports:
“You will never understand what this has done to me if you aren’t standing in my shoes,” she said. “The humiliation, the pain, the isolation, being reduced to nothing but a piece of flesh right before your eyes — it does something to you that is truly impossible to describe.”
Victim rights advocates have criticized the process of her testifying, saying she is being traumatized by being made to continually confront her accused assailants, local TV station WTVF reports.
If convicted, Banks faces a minimum of 15 years in prison. His trial is expected to last about a week.