State seeks trial for third player in Vanderbilt rape case

Prosecutors on Thursday will ask to set a trial date for a third ex-football player charged in the rape of an unconscious woman at Vanderbilt University, a sign that plea negotiations in his case may have stalled.

Felony charges against Brandon E. Banks have been pending while two other former Commodores football players went to trial and were each sentenced to prison. More recently, Banks' lawyer has been working with the state to reach a deal to avoid another trial in the prolonged case.

But on Wednesday, Nashville District Attorney's Office spokesman Ken Whitehouse said prosecutors would ask to set a trial date for Banks, 22. The trial may be in June 2017, but the exact schedule is up to Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins to decide during Thursday's hearing, Mark Scruggs, Banks' lawyer, said.

He said plea negotiations would continue.

"We'll get a trial date, but we'll still be discussing possible settlement," he said.

Jim Todd, a Nashville lawyer and former prosecutor, said setting a trial date means those discussions may not be successful. It could also be a negotiation tactic, he said.

"It means that the state's plea bargain offer, and the defense's plea bargain offer, are very far apart, and it does not appear they will be closer together," he said.

Four former players were charged in the rape, which occurred in a Vanderbilt dorm room in the early morning hours of June 23, 2013. The case, once seen as encouraging reporting of sexual assault, has lingered in the criminal justice system so long some victims' advocates worry it could have a chilling effect.

The victim, who graduated from Vanderbilt and now lives out of state, has returned to Nashville to testify three times so far. She does not remember the rape. But Nashville police detectives found photograph thumbnails and videos of the attack on the football players' cellphones and a laptop computer, evidence that became the prosecution's smoking gun.

The case has been marked by unusual twists and turns, including a mistrial in June 2015 that led to retrials of two players, 22-year-old Cory Batey and 23-year-old Brandon Vandenburg. Batey and Vandenburg are now serving 15 and 17 year prison terms, respectively, for their role in the rape.

Meanwhile, Jaborian "Tip" McKenzie, the fourth football player, has testified against both Batey and Vandenburg. He has pleaded not guilty to his own charges and his case is also pending.

This story originally appeared on The Tennessean’s website.


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