Noted defense attorney labels Vandy rape case 'difficult' - WKRN News 2

JOE BIDDLE: Noted defense attorney labels Vandy rape case 'difficult'

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -

Through the years, Ed Yarbrough has defended a large number of high profile cases.

A former Middle Tennessee U.S. Attorney, Yarbrough is now in private practice with Bone, McAllester and Norton.

He is not representing any of the four defendants in the aggravated rape case involving Vanderbilt football players and a 21-year-old Vanderbilt student.

"This is one of the most difficult cases to defend,'' Yarbrough told me Monday. "And, if one or two defendants decide to testify against their buddies, it will be extremely difficult.''

Yarbrough is speaking of the indictment handed down last week involving former Vanderbilt players Brandon Vandenburg, 20 years old from California; 19-year-old Cory Batey from Nashville; 19-year-old JaBorian "Tip'' McKenzie from Mississippi; and 19-year-old Brandon Banks from Maryland.

They were all indicted and arrested. Batey, an Ensworth High graduate, was the first one to be arrested. He underwent a mandatory blood test for HIV at a Nashville hospital. The remaining ex-players followed suit, with Banks turning himself in Sunday night.

They are charged with five counts each of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. Vandenburg incurred additional charges of unlawful photography and tampering with evidence.

All four players were immediately dismissed from the team and soon afterward, suspended from Vanderbilt.

Yarbrough explained the legal difference between rape and aggravated rape.

"Aggravated rape typically involves physical injury or use of a weapon or both,'' he said. "It's a forcible rape. All rapes are forcible, but the definition of forcible has been changed and when a victim is incapacitated – physically or mentally – that could be an aggravated factor as well.''

The alleged rape occurred in a dorm room at Gillette Hall on the Vanderbilt campus. It was only discovered when a security video in the dorm alerted Vanderbilt officials that something was suspicious about activity they saw while scanning the tape for another matter.

Yarbrough believes the four ex-players will be tried together, but it's not a given.

"Normally in a situation like that all four would be tried together,'' he said. "The only reason why they might not would be what we call a Bruton problem, which gets down into criminal evidence law pretty heavy. But basically if one of them made an incriminating statement that would affect the others, he would be severed out.

"Typically in a situation like that while the allegation was they all acted together, you would not see a severance meeting and they would all be tried together.''

Two ex-players, Vandenburg and Batey, were held on $350,000 bond. Banks was held on $250,000 bond while McKenzie's bond was $50,000. Only McKenzie is currently free on bond.

"I have to plead ignorance on the facts of the case, but from looking at the bonds amounts those are pretty big disparities there. I think you could anticipate that there would be cooperating testimony and probably one or more would make a deal and testify against the more culpable defendants,'' Yarbrough said.

One thing is for certain. None of these defendants' lives will ever be the same. If the allegations prove true, it is the most high profile criminal case involving Vanderbilt athletes in the history of the school.

Even if they have had no past criminal records, it is highly likely all four will be incarcerated for what would have been the worst decisions they have ever made in their young lives.

Fairly or not, it has cast a dark cloud over Vanderbilt and its football program, one that will only grow if the case comes to trial and the verdicts rendered.

Vanderbilt officials have to ask themselves if these four young men would have been admitted to Vanderbilt if they had not been highly recruited football players.

If the answer is no, then the administration has to decide whether the cost of being able to compete in SEC football is worth the price. 

Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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