Rape trial for ex-Brigham Young players begins

Updated: August 25, 2005, 7:47 PM ET
Associated Press

PROVO, Utah -- An 18-year-old woman identified former Brigham Young University football player B.J. Mathis as one of the men who sexually assaulted her at a Provo apartment a year ago in court testimony Thursday.

The teenager from suburban Salt Lake City was the first witness in the trial of Mathis and Ibrahim Rashada, both 19, who are accused of raping the then-17-year-old in August 2004. They are charged with aggravated sexual assault, dealing harmful material to a minor, furnishing alcohol to a minor and obstructing justice.

The woman said she was attacked by three, possibly four, men after she passed out from drinking vodka and went to a bedroom to lie down.

"I blacked out, fell asleep and the very next thing I remember was the sound of voices and laughter," she said, sobbing on the witness stand in 4th District Court. "It sounded like I was under water."

She said she doesn't know how long she was unconscious. When she came to, she said there were two men, one forcing her into oral sex and another into intercourse. She identified one of her attackers as Mathis.

"They kept saying, 'Shhh, you're fine, you're fine. Just be quiet,' " she testified.

She said Rashada was in the apartment, but on direct questioning from the defense she said she could not remember Rashada being in the bedroom -- although she identified him to police as one of her assailants.

In opening statements earlier in the day, prosecutor Dave Sturgill told jurors that the girl voluntarily went with a group of football players to one of their apartments. He contended the players got her drunk, then raped her after she had blacked out.

Two other players were charged with rape. One has taken a plea agreement, and the case of the other is in juvenile court. Additionally, two others were charged with lesser crimes in the case. All the players were either suspended or expelled for failure to comply with the school's strict honor code. None is still with the team.

The combined trial for Rashada and Mathis is expected to take up to a week. The girl was the state's first witness. Her cousin, who was with her at the apartment but left, also took the stand Thursday.

Defense attorneys contended that the girl's story will not hold up. They questioned how much the girl had to drink, and whether it was enough to make her black out, as she claimed.

One defense attorney said the girl was at the apartment voluntarily and although the allegations are distasteful, the sex was consensual.

"What happened at that particular place in that particular time was not illegal," said Dean Zabriskie, who is representing Rashada.

Jere Reneer, who is representing Mathis, told jurors during his opening statements that the girl didn't go to police until more than 12 hours after the alleged rape, and only did so after her ex-boyfriend said there would no be chance of reconciling their relationship unless she pressed charges.

"It's a 'she said' versus the entire ream of evidence," Reneer said.

Mathis and Rashada, who are both black, sat quietly to the left of the all-white jury. The eight-member panel with one alternate includes seven men and two women.

The defendants' family members sat in the courtroom and nodded in agreement when the defense questioned why the girl didn't leave the apartment immediately if she felt uncomfortable, as she later told police she was.

Family members of the girl murmured as the defense questioned her story during the opening statements.

Another former player, Karland Bennett, has pleaded guilty to dealing harmful material to a minor and obstructing justice, and his sentencing is scheduled for October. Two counts of aggravated sexual assault were dropped. Another former player's case was moved to juvenile court because he was 17 at the time of the alleged assault.

Two others were charged with lesser offenses and will have their misdemeanor charges dropped from their records if they abide by conditions set by the court. Antwaun Harris, 19, entered a plea to a misdemeanor charge of making false statements to a police officer, and Billy Skinner, 19, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of attempted dealing harmful material to a minor.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press