A Nashville judge says he will decide next week whether to order a new sentencing hearing for Cory Batey, a former Vanderbilt University football player found guilty of aggravated rape in the assault of a woman while she was unconscious in 2013.
Batey appeared in court for a hearing Thursday in a blue denim prison uniform with his hands in cuffs behind his back. His family members watched from the second row of Judge Monte Watkins' courtroom.
On Aug. 15, prosecutors filed a motion asking for a new sentencing hearing saying they were not aware of those letters and thus were not able to contest them. The motion was released Tuesday, the same day Batey's lawyer filed a response arguing that the state should take the issue to an appeals court.
Watkins said Thursday he would take the issue under advisement and rule next week.
"If they're dissatisfied with the sentence then they can appeal the sentence to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals," Batey's lawyer, Peter Strianse, said of the state's request, noting that letters in support of defendants are regularly reviewed by judges. He described the letters as innocuous and akin to Hallmark cards that would not impact the final sentence.
He questioned the true motive of state's request for a new sentencing hearing, which also suggested a new judge should handle the matter.
"I think it's a not so thinly veiled attempt to see if he would recuse himself and then they would run down the hall and get another judge who might be more understanding of their aggravating factors to get above that 15 (year sentence)," Strianse said.
In court, Deputy District Attorney Roger Moore said these kinds of post-sentencing requests are made regularly and the motion was filed so the state's concern that they did not know about the letters was documented in the court record.
Moore also mentioned one letter, which is from Batey's former classmate and teammate, that compares Batey's 15-year sentence to that handed down to Brock Turner in California. Turner, a swimmer at Stanford University, received a 6-month sentence in a sexual assault case that was seen by many as too light.
"I feel that this sentencing is also too much because just recently a white male committed the same exact crime as Corey [sic] Batey did, the Stanford swimmer, and he will do a couple of months in county for raping a victim behind a dumpster with no remorse," the letter from Shomari White reads.
Strianse said Watkins' ruling was allowed by law. Watkins was bound by Tennessee law to impose a sentence of 15 to 25 years on Batey's convictions.
Batey, 22, was sentenced to the minimum possible term for his convictions, 15 years, on July 15. After a trial in April he was found guilty of aggravated rape, three counts of aggravated sexual battery, two counts of attempted aggravated rape and facilitation of aggravated rape.
One of his former teammates, who was dating the woman at the time, was found guilty as-charged in a separate trial in June. Brandon Vandenburg, 23, is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 30.
Two other men, Brandon Banks and Jaborian "Tip" McKenzie, are charged in the case and plea negotiations are ongoing.