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The Great Smoky Mountain Journal

Tuesday, January 01, 2019 03:04 PM

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Former Vols Found Not Guilty In Rape Case After Days Of Deliberations By Jury

On Friday, the defense in the rape trial of former Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson and defensive back Michael Williams rested their case and jury deliberations began.

On Friday evening, the jury reached a verdict of not guilty on all counts for both ex-Vols.

On Thursday, prosecutors in the rape trial rested their case after testimony from a Knoxville police official who mentioned how the Tennessee football program’s clout complicated the investigation.

On Wednesday, the woman said A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams raped her during a party at Johnson’s apartment Nov. 16, 2014, hours after a Tennessee football victory over Kentucky.

“They looked like animals,” the woman said. “I was intimidated.”

Johnson was a star linebacker and Williams was a defensive back for Tennessee at the time, though they were suspended from the team less than 48 hours after the party and never played for the Volunteers again. Each faces two counts of aggravated rape.

Defense lawyers have said the woman intentionally had sex with both men at the same time and lied that she was raped afterward.

On the night in question, the woman originally told police she didn’t want anyone arrested. The woman said Wednesday that her initial reluctance about pressing charges shouldn’t be interpreted as uncertainty about what had happened.

“I knew enough to know that was a big decision,” the woman said. “I also knew enough to know that they were football players and I was not a football player, and I would not be treated the same way as them. I was scared people wouldn’t believe me because of who they were. I was scared people would say I was lying about this. I just didn’t know what I wanted to do yet.”

The woman has acknowledged having consensual sex with Johnson on two occasions prior to the evening in question. She was at the November 2014 party with a friend visiting from out of state when the two of them went to Johnson’s room with Johnson and Williams.

She said that she sat on Johnson’s bed to start removing her shoes when Johnson immediately started having sex with her. Her friend testified earlier this week that Williams tried forcing her into sexual activity at the same time before the friend got away and left the room.

The woman said she was shocked and scared about what was happening with Johnson but didn’t say or do anything to fight him.

“If the encounter had ended there, I would have left the room and described it to myself as an unpleasant experience but wouldn’t have reported it as rape,” the woman said.

The charges instead stem from what the woman says happened after her friend left the room.

She said Williams left but returned a minute or two later and locked the door at Johnson’s suggestion. She said Johnson then stepped aside as Williams started to rape her. She said she immediately started saying, “No,” and asking to leave, but that both men put their hands on her mouth.

The woman said the two men took turns raping her at first, then they both raped her at the same time. She said that when it was over, Williams yelled at her to stop crying.

Defense lawyers spent much of their cross-examination pointing out discrepancies between what the woman said Wednesday and what she had said earlier.

Stephen Ross Johnson, who represents A.J. Johnson but isn’t related to him, noted how she had told an investigator she had thought there was a possibility she might have sex with A.J. Johnson that night.