“Not guilty.” There are no finer words for a criminal defense attorney to hear – nor for the defendant, of course. So when we received the “not guilty” verdict on July 27, 2018, our faith in our country’s criminal justice system was reaffirmed.
Our client was Michael Williams, represented by our managing partner David Eldridge, a former University of Tennessee Knoxville football player, who along with his teammate A.J. Johnson were indicted for aggravated rape charges nearly three and a half years ago after a woman claimed both men raped her during a victory party on Nov. 16, 2014.
As a result of the accusation, Johnson and Williams were suspended from the team less than 48 hours after the party and never played for Tennessee again. Johnson had been a star linebacker, and Williams was a starter in the secondary.
The thing is, there was not enough evidence that a crime had taken place. The prosecution did not introduce any forensic evidence, there no eyewitness testimony to corroborate the alleged rape, nor any other physical evidence to support the charges, let alone sufficient to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Further, there were a number of inconsistencies between what the woman said in court and what she had previously told investigators. There were also significant inconsistencies between how she and her friend described the events before the alleged rape took place. The prosecution did not preserve the alleged victim’s and her friends text communications or social media data, and as a result that information was lost forever. We also learned as a result of our efforts to obtain this information that she and her friend, a witness for the prosecution had both replaced their phones around the same time.
We argued that the woman had consensual sex with both men at the same time, and then claimed it was rape after she quickly realized all there were going to learn that she had had sex with two guys at the same time. Once she made the claim of rape, her allegation was like a snowball rolling down a hill, getting bigger and with more momentum, each time was called upon the repeat the false claim – first to her friends, then to the responding officer, then to the investigators and so on. She regretted it, so we also reminded the jury that regret isn’t rape.
Non-consensual sex is a serious issue – one we would never take lightly. We understand that it happens, and would never want anyone to be too afraid to come forward with allegations of a crime of this nature – if it really happened. However, in this case, a crime had not occurred; Johnson and Williams were innocent. Our system of justice demands more proof when you’re trying to deprive a fellow citizen of their liberty. Michael Williams was the subject of a false accusation for three and a half years. There is no greater privilege as a citizen than to lift the veil of a false accusation and we are grateful to the jury for seeing the truth and doing just that for Mr. Williams.