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Illinois basketball star Terrence Shannon found not guilty in rape trial

Jonathan Bullington, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Basketball

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Terrence Shannon Jr., the University of Illinois men’s basketball star and potential first-round pick in this month’s NBA draft, has been found not guilty of grabbing an 18-year-old woman’s buttocks under her skirt and penetrating her vagina with his finger in September at a bar near the University of Kansas campus.

The 23-year-old Chicago native sat motionless as a Douglas County jury returned the unanimous verdict after 90 minutes of deliberation. His mother, Treanette Redding, put her hand to her face in tears

His accuser and her friend sat expressionless.

In the hallway, drying her tears, Redding, said she was “relieved” by the verdict.

“The accusations didn’t match the person that I raised,” Redding said. “I knew my son wasn’t capable of something like that. I’m just happy justice was served.”

Earlier Thursday, with his parents, stepfather and other loved ones in the gallery, Shannon took the stand on the trial’s fourth and final day and emphatically denied allegations that stem from a September trip he and two others took to Lawrence to watch an Illini-Jayhawks football game.

“I never touched, grabbed, pulled over. … That did not happen,” Shannon told the jury.

In his closing arguments, Senior Assistant District Attorney Ricardo Leal said the case boiled down to two college students: one, a “typical” student from a junior college who went with her friend to a bar, despite liking neither crowds or drinking, because it’s what college students do; the other, an “atypical” star college athlete who “might as well be the king of the University of Illinois.”

“When he wants something,” Leal said, “he gets it.”

Shannon’s defense attorney, Bruce Sutter, spent his closing arguments attempting to dismantle a case he called “a travesty” and a police investigation from a Lawrence police detective that Sutter said did not deserve to be called as such.

“Two things aren’t debatable,” Sutter told jurors. “Simple science dictates that Terrence Shannon Jr. isn’t responsible for this crime, and there’s been absolutely no effort to find the perpetrator guilty of this crime.”

The jury deliberations began just before 2 p.m.

The state’s case largely centered on testimony from Shannon’s accuser and her best friend, who was with her the night of the alleged encounter in a basement bar area of the Jayhawk Cafe called the Martini Room.

The 18-year-old told jurors she and her friend were heading for the exit that night when she spotted a cute boy wave her toward him. He was tall, she said, had different colored dreadlocks and wore a mustard-yellow shirt.

At her friend’s encouragement, they reentered the bar about 12:15 a.m. That’s when she said the man grabbed her and pulled her to him. She said she thought they would talk and exchange phone numbers or Snapchats. Instead, she said no words were exchanged. With a drink in one hand and a phone in the other, both arms pressed near her chest, she said she looked straight ahead as she felt the man’s hand move under her skirt to her butt.

“I was definitely uncomfortable,” she told jurors. “I don’t know why I didn’t (walk away). But I wish I did.”

Next, she said, she felt his hand move her underwear to the side and a finger inside her for what she estimated to be no more than 10 seconds.

 

“I didn’t react,” she said. “All I did was stand there in shock.”

Black-and-white surveillance footage from the Martini Room played during the trial appeared to show Shannon and the woman moments before — but not during — the alleged encounter.

When it was over, she said, she pushed through the crowd to leave and to look for her friend. The two eventually left the bar. By then, she said, she was too hysterical to drive.

The woman said she returned to her apartment around 1:15 a.m. Saturday, and started to search for the man’s identity. She remembered that the man had been standing by a KU basketball player at the bar. She eventually identified Shannon, she said, after searching online for photos from rosters for football and basketball teams at KU and Illinois.

She did not immediately call police, she said, fighting back tears, “because I didn’t want to end up here.”

She and her friend spoke with police that same Saturday of the alleged sexual assault and then went to a Lawrence hospital, where a sexual assault nurse examination kit was collected. The two eventually returned to the Martini Room later that same night, according to testimony from a computer forensics expert who, acting on a defense subpoena, extracted data from the woman’s friend’s phone.

Phone records also showed a December group message thread involving the two women and their two other roommates, including the best friend’s sister. The exchange included a link to an ESPN article on Shannon’s suspension from the Illini men’s team following the rape charge, and a message from the friend’s sister that read “got his ass,” followed by two face emojis with dollar signs for eyes and cash for tongues.

The testimony did not mention any response from the 18-year-old to that message.

The trial saw testimony from two forensic scientists, one from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the other privately hired by the defense, whose analysis and interpretation of DNA in the case reached somewhat different conclusions.

Both agreed that no male DNA was detected in swabs taken from the 18-year-old’s vagina and genital area.

The KBI forensic scientist wrote in her report that swabs from the interior and exterior crotch of the woman’s underwear revealed an “insufficient amount of male DNA” to move forward with testing, though she told jurors Wednesday that those levels were essentially too low to say conclusively whether they were even DNA.

But the defense’s forensic scientist called the report’s reference to male DNA “a very misleading statement.”

Using a different measurement threshold than the KBI, the defense’s scientist also concluded “with scientific certainty” that Shannon’s DNA was not in a sample collected from the 18-year-old’s buttocks.

The lack of DNA evidence, Sutter said in closing arguments, “blows the case out of the water.”

He also chastised police for failing to interview possible witnesses and an alternative suspect who had been accused of a similar crime, two weeks earlier, in the same spot in the Martini Room where Shannon’s accuser said she was assaulted.

“This isn’t our burden,” Sutter told jurors, “and yet, after doing this case and listening to the testimony, I think you’ll all agree we proved it’s not Terrence Shannon Jr.”


©2024 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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