This week, a promising young college basketball player screamed out in anguish in an Oklahoma courtroom after he was found guilty of rape.
According to CBS News:
Darrell Williams broke down in tears as the verdicts were read, saying “Oh my Jesus God” as he bent over and banged his hands on the defense table. He then turned to the jury and yelled, “I didn’t do it.” Others in the packed courtroom, including his teammates and coach, left without commenting, and an inconsolable female relative was helped out as Williams was taken away by sheriff’s deputies.
The 22-year-old was charged with four counts of rape by instrumentation, but was acquitted on two of those counts. He hasn’t been sentenced yet but after deliberating for about eight hours, the jurors recommended that he be sentenced to a year in prison for each of the rape counts. He will be formally sentenced on Aug. 24.
So what happened?
Payne County prosecutors accused Williams of groping the two women and reaching inside their pants without their consent during a party in December 2010. With little physical evidence to bolster their case, Assistant District Attorney Jill Tontz had to rely on testimony from the two women.
“`No’ means just that: It means `no,”‘ Tontz said during closing arguments earlier Monday. “These girls felt dehumanized, embarrassed.”
Both women testified during the trial and said they identified Williams as their attacker after police showed them a photo of the Cowboys basketball team. One woman said Williams held her against her will and dragged her in a yard. She said the attack happened in the basement of the house and that no one came to her aid.
“It made me feel violated and sick to my stomach,” she testified.
After the verdicts, Tontz said the women “waited 16 months to tell a jury what Darrell Williams did to them. This verdict represents justice.”
Defense attorneys had tried to cast doubt that Williams was the perpetrator. Witnesses testified that several players at the party wore similar Oklahoma State warm-up suits, and his attorneys claimed that could have led to a misidentification.
Defense attorney Cheryl Ramsey referred to the case as a “he said, she said situation” during her closing argument. She noted that no one heard anyone scream at the party, saw any struggles or reported anything inappropriate. Neither of the women suffered any cuts or scratches, and no clothing was torn after the alleged incident.
After the verdicts were read, Ramsey said she was “very disappointed.” She had asked the judge to release Williams pending his sentencing, but the judge denied the request, noting Williams’ sudden outburst in court.
The outburst prompted Tontz to quickly move to the other side of prosecutors’ table and cry as she clutched a sheriff’s deputy. The prosecutor later said she felt intimidated.
Williams has long denied the allegations, and did so in a recorded interview with police that attorneys played at the trial last week.
“I don’t know what happened in the basement,” Williams said on the audio recording. “I was probably misidentified.”
Oklahoma State basketball coach Travis Ford testified on Williams’ behalf Wednesday, saying he believed the young man was innocent. The coach declined comment after the verdicts Monday.
Williams was suspended from the team in February 2011. Before that, he led the team in rebounding and averaged 7.1 points per game.
Stories like this are difficult. Rape is a serious crime and rapists should certainly be held accountable for their actions. But, this harsh sentence was based on the testimony of victims who were intoxicated the night in question and could have easily mistaken his identity or the severity of the incident. Getting felt up at a party is hardly “rape” so to convict him of rape and, as a result, throw his life away is pretty extreme. Granted, if Darrell did grope the girls, he deserves a punishment.
For his part, Darrell has maintained his innocence. He has no prior criminal record and maintained a higher than 3.0 GPA while on a full-ride basketball scholarship to Oklahoma State University. He even has a daughter who is just over one years old still living in his hometown of Chicago. Is it possible that he threw all of that away to drunkenly cop a feel on some girls who were resisting his advances? This jury seems to think so; but with stories like Brian Banks and others who were wrongly convicted for crimes they didn’t commit, you have to wonder if Darrell is guilty of rape or actually a victim of negative pre-conceived notions of black athletes.
It’s hard to give any courtroom in America the benefit of the doubt considering how many young black men are tossed in prison right or wrong. But we can’t just call him innocent and thus discredit women who have the courage to come forward and report rape. I guess in cases like this, we just have to hope the jury got it right with Darrell and remind our black athletes to steer clear of these compromising situations.
What do you think of this case?
Follow Alissa on Twitter @AlissaInPink
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