KNOXVILLE - A state appeals court has ruled that two former UT football players charged with rape can use social media posts by the victim and witnesses in their defense.
The trials for A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams, both accused of raping a female UT athlete in November 2014, were delayed until a final decision can be made about the use of those social media posts, on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, in their defense.
Witnesses had told authorities that the alleged victim and others had talked via social media about "the events surrounding the alleged offenses," according to court documents. The defense contends that the victim and Johnson had a previous relationship, and that the sexual encounter that night was consensual.
Defense attorneys want to force social media service providers to give them access to media such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook produced by the alleged victim and others involved in the case. They say both the victim and a primary witness got rid of their phones and deleted their social media accounts shortly after the alleged rape.
The state countered that the defense needed to prove there's something relevant to the case before requesting all of the private information on someone's phone They contend that it could lead to harassment of a victim.
In November, Knox County Criminal Court Judge Bob McGee denied the defense’s bid to get subpoenas to specifically examine those accounts. The argument went before the the state Court of Criminal Appeals in December.
On Wednesday, the defense got the answer they were hoping for. The appeals court ruled that Johnson and Williams do have the right to seek out those postings to be used in their defense.
The case can now move to trial.
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