- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A prosecutor told jurors Tuesday that a group of former Vanderbilt football players ruined the life of a promising young neuroscience student when they raped her in a dorm in January 2013.

In opening statements, Deputy District Attorney General Tom Thurman told jurors that the former players giggled, shot video and sent text messages while they sexually abused her in an assault that began in a hallway. He described in sometimes explicit language how one former player assaulted her with a water bottle while a teammate egged him on. The prosecutor said one of the players passed out condoms and assaulted her.

Thurman said one of the former players urinated on her and made a racial statement. Three of the ex-players are black and one is white. The victim is white.

“And after hearing all the proof you will be convinced they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” Thurman said.

Four former players are accused of raping the unconscious coed in a dorm on the Nashville campus in June 2013. All have pleaded not guilty.

The trial takes place amid a roiling national debate about the prevalence of rapes at U.S. colleges and universities, with investigations under way at dozens of colleges around the country and the Obama administration launching its own campaign to end sexual assault on America’s campuses.

Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey are being tried this week on five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. Vandenburg is also charged with one count of tampering with evidence and one count of unlawful photography.

The defense will blame alcohol and a culture of binge drinking and sexual promiscuity on campus. Alcohol intoxication cannot be used as a defense for aggravated rape. However, defense attorneys hope that jurors will consider that their clients weren’t even of legal drinking age and were heavily intoxicated when the events took place.

“I think the proof will be very clear at the end of the trial that alcohol played a role in what happened in that dorm room,” Worrick Robinson, an attorney who represents Batey, told jurors.

He said Batey was so drunk that he blacked out that night.

Robinson also told jurors that there is no evidence of Batey’s DNA in the dorm room and no evidence of his fingerprints on a condom box.

One of Vandenburg’s attorneys called the prosecutor’s statements elegant but “inflammatory” and said evidence would show that his client was not responsible for what someone else did to the woman.

Both defense attorneys warned jurors about the two other former players who are charged in the case. Brandon Banks and Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie are expected to testify against Vandenburg and Batey.

Fletcher Long, one of Vandenburg’s defense attorneys, told jurors that they have changed their stories repeatedly.

Both defense attorneys suggested that Banks and McKenzie would be willing to point the finger at Vandenburg and Batey in order to get a good deal with prosecutors.

Some widely publicized investigations involving student-athletes have heightened the focus on sexual assaults at college. Florida State Quarterback Jameis Winston was cleared last month of violating the school’s code of conduct in relation to allegations that he sexually assaulted a student in 2012. Winston had adamantly denied the allegations.

In Knoxville, two University of Tennessee football players were suspended from the team last year after a fellow student accused them of sexual assault. No charges have been filed against them.

A woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted by three University of Oregon basketball players filed a federal lawsuit last week against the school and the men’s basketball coach. The three students had been kicked off the team in April.

The trial is set to reconvene Wednesday at 9 a.m. Central Time.

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