Ex-BU player’s rape case goes back to state’s top appeals court

Sam Ukwuachu (left) and his attorney, William Bratton III of Dallas, in a March 2017 photo. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed Wednesday to take another look at a rape case involving former Baylor football player. (Photo by John Carroll/file)
By  | 

WACO, Texas (KWTX) The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed Wednesday to take another look at a rape case involving former Baylor football player Samuel Ukwuachu whose arrest provided the spark that ignited the sexual assault scandal that engulfed the school’s football program in 2016.

The state’s top criminal appeals court Wednesday granted a state motion for discretionary review, but won’t hear oral arguments in the case.

Prosecutors filed the motion in late July after the Waco-based 10th Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of the former player and sent it back to district court for retrial.

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, the 10th Court reversed the conviction after the defense raised questions about some of the evidence presented in trial.

The state appealed the ruling and in June 2018, however, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reinstated the conviction.

In July, however, the 10th Court again reversed the conviction and sent the case back to state 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 July ruling from the three-judge panel said.

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 read.

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."