Rape trial of former Vol linebacker A.J. Johnson, ex-teammate starts Monday; case of 'they said, she said'
She says they raped her. They say they didn’t.
After years of legal wrangling that shaped Tennessee law, the case of former star University of Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson and ex-teammate Michael Williams – accused of raping a female athlete – is turning out to be that simple.
Who is telling the truth? Who is lying?
Jury selection begins
On Monday, defense attorneys for the pair of ex-Vols and state prosecutors will seek to find among a couple dozen potential jurors a panel of 12 each side thinks will look more favorably on their respective positions.
Jury selection is set to begin in Knox County Criminal Court Judge Bob McGee’s courtroom Monday. Johnson and Williams face two sets of aggravated rape charges – one involving their own alleged conduct and one alleging they aided the other.
Johnson and Williams are accused of raping the woman, also a UT athlete, in Johnson’s bedroom during a party in November 2014 at his apartment after the football team won a game.
There are no eyewitnesses.
Trial:Accuser in rape case against ex-Vols A.J. Johnson, Michael Williams to testify for first time
Anna Lawn, the accuser’s best friend, records show, saw the accuser engaging in sex with Johnson after the two women arrived but left the room when, she said, Williams made a pass at her.
They said, she said
Johnson and the accuser, who was dating another UT football player at the time, were having a secret fling in the weeks before the party, according to court records.
Johnson and Williams contend the accuser had consensual sex with both of them and only alleged rape after word began to spread among partygoers. At least one witness told police he saw the accuser chatting with Williams and Johnson after the alleged rape and overheard Johnson protest when Williams asked for the accuser’s phone number.
Prosecutors Kyle Hixson and Leslie Nassios contend it doesn’t matter whether the woman had sex with Johnson before the party – or even before Lawn left the room. They allege the woman protested at sex with both athletes but was forced to continue.
More:Supreme Court backs A.J. Johnson's bid to see alleged victim's social media
Motion: Ex-Vol A.J. Johnson's accuser supported his consensual sex claim in statement
Attorneys Stephen Ross Johnson and Tom Dillard, who represent ex-linebacker Johnson, and attorneys David Eldridge and Zach Walden, who represent Williams, contend the accuser and Lawn ditched their phones and shut down their social media accounts – afraid authorities might find messages showing deceit.
The Knoxville Police Department was worried about that, too, court records show, but didn’t follow through with a search warrant for that information.
The defense mounted a legal fight to force the accuser, Lawn and two other friends to allow access to their phone and social media accounts – and won, opening the door for similar moves in criminal cases across the state.
But it’s not yet clear exactly what testimony the defense will be allowed to elicit about the accuser’s sexual past with Johnson or the digital information they won the right to see.
Shielded:Rule closes hearing in rape case against ex-UT Vols A.J. Johnson, Michael Williams
McGee held a hearing in secret in May – pursuant to a state law designed to “shield” accusers in rape cases from a public airing of embarrassment about their sexual history – to determine that.
The law also shields his ruling, though the substance of it should become clear as defense attorneys cross-examine the accuser and her friends later this week.