Lawyers representing Brandon Vandenburg, the former Vanderbilt football player who faces aggravated rape charges, called for the dismissal of those charges on Tuesday due to inconsistent, absent, and mishandled evidence relating to the case. In their statements, they suggest that then-head coach James Franklin contacted the victim of the alleged crime four days after it took place to check on her.
John Herbison, one of Vandenburg's attorneys, cited that this contact, along with a cache of deleted or otherwise improperly stored or collected evidence, constitutes grounds for dismissal in a case that has haunted Vanderbilt since last summer. He alleges that the majority of the video evidence from that night's alleged crime has been erased along with thousands of text messages and phone calls that may be valuable to the case.
This is not the first time that the defense team has taken issue with the prosecution's methods of collecting evidence. A month earlier, the group called for a dismissal of their client's charges due to a lack of reliable and complete evidence. At that time, Davidson County Attorney General's Office Spokeswoman Susan Niland denied any inappropriate conduct had taken place and labeled Herbison's prior accusations as "baseless." The office has not responded to today's release from Vandenburg's lawyers.
If true, the accusations levied by Vandenburg's defense paint a troubling picture for the university. His lawyers suggest that Franklin and former Director of Performance Enhancement Dwight Galt contacted the victim four days after the alleged assault took place. This was one day after the MNPD's investigation went public, so it does not implicate the coaching staff in any kind of cover up. However, it may be construed as a form of inappropriate contact between Vanderbilt employees and the victim of a crime that may have taken place on campus.
The report also implicated that Franklin had a prior relationship with the victim, and he may have planned to use her to coordinate a group of student "hostesses" to aid in football recruiting. From the Tennesseean:
Referring to records, the attorneys said the victim was contacted by Franklin and Galt during a medical examination four days after the rape to explain "that they cared about her because she assisted them with recruiting."
It went on to say that at some point, "Coach Franklin called her in for a private meeting and told her he wanted her to get fifteen pretty girls together and form a team to assist with the recruiting even though he knew it was against the rules. He added that all the other colleges did it."
While this practice of using "hostesses" to lure recruits can be a gray area in recruiting, it's not necessarily illegal to have "fifteen pretty girls" on campus to help with recruiting. Without more information on the matter, it's difficult to tell if any actual NCAA rule violation took place.
It's unclear where these allegations will leave the case. While some of Herbison's complaints about missing data seem valid, some of the items that the defense cites as being withheld - non-germane text messages, interviews with Austyn Carta-Samuels's girlfriend, social media posts - may be extraneous to the case itself. It seems unlikely that these serious charges will be dropped, but it's also clear that this missing data will be a key part in Vandenburg's trial defense.
Neither Franklin, Vanderbilt, or Penn State University had any public comment on today's release. We'll have more on this story as it develops.