On the same day a damning report involving Baylor’s handling of a situation involving one of its players made the rounds, said situation came to a head. Suffice to say, BU will have some serious and much-needed explaining to do moving forward.
On trial for charges that he sexually assaulted a female BU student in October of 2013, Sam Ukwuachu was found guilty of those charges by a Waco jury Thursday evening. Ukwuachu’s victim was a former Bears soccer player, with the rape occurring after Baylor’s homecoming win over Iowa State while he was still a listed member of the football program.
Because some of the witnesses in the trial came from out of state, the case has already gone into the penalty phase. Ukwuachu is facing up to 20 years in prison.
The conviction is the latest in what’s fast becoming a sordid story connected to the rising Bears football program.
In May of 2013, Ukwuachu was dismissed by then-Boise State head coach Chris Petersen for violating unspecified team rules. While the reasons were unspecified, the dismissal, it was subsequently reported, was triggered by a violent episode involving a female BSU student who was in a romantic relationship with the then-Bronco.
In the damning report mentioned up top, Texas Monthly wrote that “Ukwuachu claimed after the transfer was announced that Baylor’s coaches ‘knew everything’ about what happened in Idaho; and, as indicated by court documents obtained by Texas Monthly, the two programs had some communication regarding Ukwuachu in which Boise State officials expressed reticence about supporting the player’s efforts to get back on the field.”
Ukwuachu transferred to BU in June of 2013, sitting out that season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules and sitting out last season for unspecified reasons; Ukwuachu’s attorney subsequently confirmed that his client had been indicted on two counts of felony sexual assault.
Despite the knowledge of what happened at Boise, and that Ukwuachu was connected to sexual assault allegations while at his new school — again, according to reports — BU defensive coordinator Phil Bennett sounded very confident this past June that, for whatever reason, the end would be eligible to play for the Bears in 2015.
“Ukwuachu is a guy we’re expecting to be back,” Phil Bennett said of the former Freshman All-American. “We expect him to be eligible in July. That gives us probably five or six guys we can play at end.”
Bennett’s boss, a little over a month later, liked how the situation involving Ukwuachu has been handled on all ends.
“That’s been an ongoing situation for I don’t know, a year and a half probably and we’ve been real sensitive to the process,” Bears head coach Art Briles stated Aug. 6. “We’ve sat back and waited for it all to take shape and see what the outcome is. So, I like the way we’ve handled it as a university, an athletic department and a football program.”
“We are looking forward to the trial,” Ukwuachu’s attorney, Jonathan Sibley, said earlier this month. “Sam passed a polygraph exam, he’s been cleared by Baylor and has graduated and is 100 percent innocent of these charges against him. He has done everything a man can do to clear his name and he is looking forward to the trial so he can finally do that.”
As Sibley mentioned, Ukwuachu was “cleared” by Baylor following an investigation that has come under intense scrutiny, so much so that the player’s defense team wasn’t permitted by a judge to mention it at trial. Again, from the Texas Monthly piece:
Jury selection in Ukwuachu’s trial began Monday, and during in limine motions to determine what evidence would be admissible, assistant district attorney Hilary Laborde, who is prosecuting the case, told 54th District Judge Matt Johnson that Baylor’s own investigation into the accusations against Ukwuachu involved interviewing just Ukwuachu, his accuser, and one friend of each, and that the school never saw the rape kit collected by the sexual assault nurse examiner. The woman Ukwuachu is accused of sexually assaulting went to the hospital and talked to the police on October 20, 2013, the day after the encounter. But after the school’s investigation (so insufficient, according to the court, that the judge sustained a motion from the prosecution to restrict the defense from referencing it during the trial), Baylor took no action to discipline Ukwuachu, even while charges were still pending. From Baylor’s brief investigation, to its failure to consider disciplinary action, to its defensive coordinator’s statements this summer about the player’s expected return, the school’s idea of how to respond to serious rape allegations is seriously out of step with that of the courts.
Some hard questions should be asked of both the football program and the university over this debacle. Just as much, open and honest answers should be demanded and, most importantly, freely offered by both bodies.
In the interim, the school offered up the following comment in the wake of the guilty verdict.