WACO, Texas (KWTX) A group of four advocacy groups filed a brief Friday with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals arguing that the Waco-based 10th Court of Appeals erred when it reversed the rape conviction of a former football player in March.
The three judge panel issued a decision on March 23 that reversed the August 21, 2015 conviction of Samuel Ukwuachu who was found guilty of raping a female Baylor soccer player.
The appeals court decision turned on the admissibility of an entire series of text messages between the woman and a friend that were sent before and after the alleged rape.
Messages exchanged between the two shortly after the alleged rape were admitted, but Ukwuachu “sought to have the entire series of messages admitted into evidence in order to support his defense that the victim consented to sexual intercourse,” the 10th Court ruling says.
“We find that because consent was the central issue in the proceeding, we cannot say that we have a fair assurance that the erroneous exclusion of the text messages did not affect the outcome of this proceeding, especially when considered with the other alleged errors in the trial of this cause,” the 10th court said in its ruling.
The amici curae or friends of court brief filed on behalf of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, the National Crime Victim Law Institute, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, and the National Center for Victims of Crime argues that “the lower court misapplied the state’s ‘rape shield’ law, which says that allegations of a rape victim’s prior sexual activity must be presumed irrelevant to the question of consent,” the groups said in a press release Friday.
“The court of appeals erred by improperly engaging in shortcuts in its analysis about the admissibility of the evidence in question,” the groups say.
“In doing so, the appellate court’s ruling violated the rape shield law, the Texas Rules of Evidence, and “r[a]n afoul of the state constitutional mandate to treat victims with fairness and respect for their dignity and privacy.”
“The vast majority of sexual assaults in Texas are committed by someone known to the victim, not strangers,” said Chris Kaiser, the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault director of public policy.
“Yet, when a case doesn’t conform to the stranger-in-the-bushes stereotype, victims are routinely subjected to abusive, insulting, and irrelevant inquiries into their private lives. That discourages reporting, impedes justice, and allows sexual violence to go unchallenged in our society.”
In response to the 10th Court ruling in March, McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna said he would request the Court of Criminal Appeals to “review this matter further.”
In the brief filed Friday, the groups are urging the Court of Criminal Appeals to accept the petition for discretionary review.
“This case absolutely needs further review,” said Meg Garvin, executive director of the National Crime Victim Law Institute.
“The Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse this conviction based on the facts and law before it is a remedy out of proportion to the alleged violation and represents a fundamentally flawed legal process.”
Ukwuachu, a one-time freshman All-American who transferred to Baylor University, but never played for the school, could have been sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison for the rape of the 18-year-old female athlete.
Jurors, instead, decided to sentence him to probation.
State District Judge Matt Johnson also sentenced Ukwuachu to 180 days in county jail and ordered him to perform 400 hours of community service.
He was later released from jail on an appeal bond.
Ukwuachu, a defensive end from Pearland, transferred to Baylor from Boise State University in 2013 after he was dismissed for unspecified reasons.
Because of the transfer, he was ineligible to play for the Bears in 2013 and then in 2014 was suspended.