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Rape trial wrapping up

'You cannot trust them,' prosecutor says of duo

PROVO — With finger-pointing and fist-pounding, the prosecution in the case of former Brigham Young University football players accused of raping a 17-year-old girl pleaded with the jury to find the two men guilty.

"These are not honorable men," said Deputy Utah County Attorney Donna Kelly in her closing statements on Thursday. "You cannot trust them. These two individuals signed an Honor Code, but they are not honorable men."

In hopes of swaying the jury, Kelly focused on the reasons why the sexual activity that happened that night should not be considered consensual.

Kelly noted there was no kissing or caressing, no words of consent and the sexual actions were brutal and harsh.

"What they did does violence to the term 'sexual intercourse,' " Kelly said.

"What they did was rape. What they did was sodomy. What they did was horrible, brutal. Don't let them walk. I ask you (the jury) to return the verdict of guilty on all counts."

Kelly spent more than an hour outlining differences between the accuser and two former BYU gridders, Ibrahim Rashada and B.J. Mathis. The charges stem from incidents that allegedly happened at an August 2004 party at a Provo apartment.

The Sandy girl says she was sexually assaulted by Rashada, Mathis and William Turner Jr., another former Y. football player. She also says she was goaded into drinking alcohol and shown a pornographic movie.

BYU requires all students to sign an Honor Code that, among other things, prohibits premarital sex and consumption of alcohol.

Rashada and Mathis were charged with several first-degree felony counts, including aggravated sexual assault, dealing material harmful to a minor, furnishing alcohol to a minor and obstructing justice. But the two players won a small victory on Thursday.

A motion to dismiss the charge of dealing in material harmful to a minor was approved Thursday morning by Judge Samuel McVey, who said that there was enough evidence to show that someone else provided the pornographic DVD.

Turner, Karland Bennett and Billy Skinner, also former Y. athletes, were also charged in connection with the case, but Turner and Skinner were both tried as juveniles in exchange for their testimony at the trial in Provo's 4th District Court.

As the result of a plea deal that required him to testify against his former teammates, Bennett pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and providing material harmful to a minor. In exchange for the plea, all sexual-related charges were dropped.

On Thursday, defense attorneys talked to the jury about the issue of consent.

"I'm not going to say that what went on in that room was in any way wise, advisable or moral," said Dean Zabriskie, lead attorney and counsel for Rashada. "It was an immoral act (but) what went on in that room, while immoral, was not illegal."

Zabriskie talked about the night in question, detailing to the jury how the 17-year-old girl had made the choice to drink — but reminded them she said she couldn't remember how much she had consumed.

"Donna (Kelly) did a good job," said Jere Reneer, defense counsel for Mathis, after the day's proceedings. "But I think they have some gaping holes (in their arguments) that I'm very anxious to point out."

The defense argues that the accuser's original grand jury testimony differs from what she recently testified to at trial. At first, she said she had only consumed an ounce and a sip of vodka.

Later, however, her story had changed to drinking as many as five cups of alcohol, which would have greatly increased her state of impairment. Clarifying this inconsistency is crucial in establishing whether she was drunk during events she claims transpired at the apartment, said defense attorneys.

However, none of the witnesses testified from the stand that they had observed her in an inebriated state, Zabriskie said. He also reminded the jury that none of the witnesses testified that the girl had been physically restrained or forced to do anything against her will.

Another issue for the defense was how they believe the rape story was concocted, when the young girl began to see the consequences of her actions.

"I call these cases a first-degree regret," Zabriskie said. "We wish it hadn't happened, but it did."

Rashada and Mathis both sat silently at the table, staring forward, listening to the accusations and allegations, as well as the reasons for acquittal. However, whatever the outcome, Zabriskie said they have still suffered for their actions.

"Their parents sent them (to college) in hopes that they could get an education," he said. "These kids let them down."

Yet he reminded jurors that they must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the two men raped the young girl. But he closed his arguments with the defense's belief that the evidence points to bad choices and a sexual escapade — not an illegal rape.

"There have been a lot of wrongs — enough blame to go around," he said. "I'm not here to justify that. But based on the evidence, they did not rape, did not sodomize (the alleged victim)."

The trial resumes Friday morning with a closing argument from Reneer, and then the state's rebuttal. Then, the jury will deliberate.


E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com