Appeals court reverses ex-BU football player’s rape conviction

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) An appeals court has reversed the 2015 rape conviction of a former Baylor football player whose arrest provided the spark that ignited the sexual assault scandal that engulfed the school’s football program in 2016.

Sam Ukwuachu (File photo)

The Waco-based 10th Court of Appeals reversed the 2015 conviction of former player Samuel Ukwuachu and sent it back to district court for retrial.

“Because we find that Ukwuachu's due process rights were violated by the use of false testimony, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for a new trial,” the ruling from the three-judge panel said.

Ukwuachu’s attorney, William Bratton of Dallas, said Ukwuachu is relieved and happy, but cautiously optimistic.

“I was confident that this was going to occur based on the issues…but there are still other issues the court has not yet ruled on that further back up this reversal.”

Colorado attorney John Clune, represents the alleged victim and her family.

He said that while they were “disappointed to learn of the ruling, they remain fully cooperative with law enforcement and are confident that justice will be served in the end, no matter how long it takes.”

It was not clear Thursday morning if McLennan County District Attorney Barry Johnson would retry the issue or dismiss the charge, but Assistant District Attorney Thomas Needham later said he's confident the ruling will be appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and confident it will be reversed.

"We strongly disagree with the 10th Court's opinion that false testimony was ever presented at Ukwuachu's trial," he said.

In August 2015, the one-time All-American who transferred to Baylor, but never played for the school, was found guilty of raping an 18-year-old female athlete in October 2013.

He could have been sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison, but jurors decided on probation and ultimately State District Judge Matt Johnson sentenced Ukwuachu to 10 years on probation, 180 days in county jail and ordered him to perform 400 hours of community service.

Ukwuachu was released from jail on a $100,000 appeal bond on Oct. 29, 2015.

On March 23, 2017, the10th Court reversed the conviction based upon evidence presented during arguments before the appeals panel that brought question to some evidence that was presented in trial.

In June 2018, however, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reinstated the conviction.

The latest appeal presented six issues, but the court dealt only with the apparent use of false testimony.

“Because we are reversing the judgment and remanding for a new trial, it is not necessary for us to address Ukwuachu's other remaining issues.”

The false testimony question surrounds the prosecution’s use of cellphone records during trial that Ukwuachu's lawyers argued were improperly presented.

“The false testimony relates to Ukwuachu's roommate's location and whether phone calls were made around the time of the alleged offense.

“The complaint is that the false testimony was created by the way in which the State made use of his roommate's cell phone records, which were provided to Ukwuachu on the second day of the trial, but which were excluded from evidence.

“Regardless of whether done knowingly or unknowingly, the State's use of material testimony that is false to obtain a conviction violates a defendant's right to due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments,” the opinion reads.

The court noted that based on the time and location data shown in the phone records, the state argued that Ukwuachu's roommate was across town during the alleged assault rather than in their apartment as the roommate had testified before the grand jury.

“But the times shown in the phone records were in UTC (Coordinated Universal Time), which was five hours different from local time,” the court said.

“Due to this five-hour difference in time for when the calls were made, Ukwuachu claimed that his roommate's testimony was not shown to be untrue by the records as argued by the State.”

“We find that there is a ‘reasonable likelihood’ that the false impression affected the judgment of the jury,” the judges wrote.

“Having found that the use of the cell phone records constituted a due process violation, we reverse the judgment of conviction and remand this proceeding for a new trial."