The nationally watched rape trial of the University of Montana’s suspended star quarterback—a case that has already contributed to the firing of the Grizzlies’ football coach and athletic director— is playing out in real time in what’s being called Trial by Twitter.
On one side is the accuser, a University of Montana student whose name is being withheld. She testified that Jordan Johnson date-raped her at her house in February 2012, pressing her shoulder with his hand, telling her “turn over or I’ll make you” and not listening when she said “no” several times. Afterward, she texted a friend: “Omg … I think I might have just gotten raped.”
On the other side is Johnson, who threw 21 touchdown passes in 2011 before being suspended for 2012. He said in a taped interview with police that the woman invited him into her bedroom to watch a movie, started kissing him, helped him undress her and enjoyed consensual sex without telling him to stop. He admits only a lack of gentlemanly behavior, not talking to the woman after sex because he was more interested in someone else.
If convicted, his future will be permanently dimmed–he faces anywhere between two and 100 years in prison, lifetime registration as a sex offender and an end to any hopes of becoming a coach.
The trial resumes this morning in a Missoula courtroom with the prosecution nearing the end of its case. Montana news outlets and bloggers are tweeting play-by-play updates at the #johnsontrial hashtag. The reporters sometimes offer conflicting interpretations and spellings of witness names, but the feed can still be riveting.
The defense calls it a he said/she said case, which could benefit the defendant since Johnson apparently has never been in trouble before and comes off as polite and soft-spoken, as seen in this video of his statement to police.
The prosecution, however, maintains there is medical evidence indicative of non-consensual sex. That claim was disputed by a forensic gynecologist hired by the defense.
The case is playing out against a background of federal and NCAA investigations of how the university has handled sexual assault and harassment allegations. Montana football coach Robin Pflugrad and athletic director Jim O’Day were fired last March, days after Pflugrad called Johnson “a person of tremendous moral fiber.” One of Johnson’s Grizzly teammates, running back Beau Donaldson, last month was sentenced to 10 years in prison (plus 20 suspended) after pleading guilty to raping a longtime friend as she slept over at his home.
As in another high-profile rape case in the high-school football mecca of Steubenville, Ohio, the case has prompted a politics-tinged dispute over whether gridiron heroes are treated differently than other rape suspects.
Anti-domestic violence organizations, aided by Anonymous hacktivists, say that football stars’ privileged status in small communities has led to a “culture of rape.”
But Montana sports fans on the forum eGriz say Johnson was singled out for prosecution despite unconvincing evidence because of an overreaction to the national investigations, although they agree that his teammate Donaldson was guilty.
In a radio interview, a former U.S. attorney speculated that the prosecution may be having a tough time convincing the jurors beyond a reasonable doubt.
For more info: The Missoulian has a collection of articles on the topic. The student newspaper Montana Kaimin is doing a thorough job of trial coverage. Both ABC and the New York Times covered the case before the trial began.