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A state appellate court ruled Wednesday that former University of Tennessee star linebacker A.J. Johnson and a former teammate have the right to go after the social media history of the woman who accuses them of rape.

UPDATE: Ex-Vols Johnson and Williams to stand trial together on rape charges, judge rules

Former University of Tennessee star linebacker A.J. Johnson’s accuser in a rape case told investigators he had no cause to believe their sexual encounter wasn’t consensual, court records state.

In a motion filed in the run-up to a hearing Wednesday in the aggravated rape case against Johnson and former teammate Michael Williams, defense attorney Stephen Ross Johnson said the men’s accuser – a female UT athlete who was dating another football player at the time – buttressed Johnson’s insistence he did not rape her.

A.J. Johnson and Williams are charged with raping the woman in November 2014 in an encounter in Johnson’s bedroom during a party after a football game. Court records show the accuser and Johnson had been carrying on a casual sexual relationship behind her boyfriend’s back in the months before the party.

More: Awaiting trial for rape, former Tennessee Vols football player A.J. Johnson ‘living life’


No reason to know

At the party, court records have stated, the accuser and her best friend, Anna Lawn, who is a key state witness, went to Johnson’s bedroom. Williams was there, too.

Attorney Johnson wrote in the motion that A.J. Johnson and the accuser began having sex while Lawn and Williams were in the room.

“The complaining witness did not tell law enforcement that she resisted having sex in any way while Ms. Lawn was in the room, and she said she did not say anything to Mr. Johnson while they were having sex,” the motion stated.

“In her statement to investigators with the University of Tennessee, the complaining witness stated that Mr. Johnson would not have known the sex was not consensual,” the motion continued.

Lawn and the accuser told investigators that Williams, on the other hand, sexually assaulted Lawn while the accuser and Johnson were having sex.

The motion stated Lawn said she repeatedly told Williams she did not want to have sex but he “grabbed her hair, forced her to her knees on the ground, pushed her head between his legs, grabbed her hand and placed it on his penis, forcefully shoved her onto the bed and attempted to kiss her and reached up her dress and pulled her underwear off.”

Lawn pushed Williams away and left the room with Johnson and the accuser still engaged in sex, the motion stated. Lawn later refused to pursue charges against Williams. Both she and the accuser are accused by the defense of deliberately ditching their cell phones after police asked about their text messages, calls and social media interaction.

Same seat at defense table?

The Knoxville Police Department never retrieved information from the cellular phone providers. Defense attorneys Johnson and David Eldridge, who represents Williams, mounted a successful appellate fight to force the accuser, Lawn and two other witnesses to turn over their social media information.

That victory was a legal watershed moment in Tennessee in an age when society increasingly uses social media and texting as a primary means of communication, but the law had lagged behind.

In the wake of that appellate ruling, Knox County prosecutors Kyle Hixson and Leslie Nassios are pushing to hold one trial with both Johnson and Williams seated at the defense table. It is an about-face from their earlier position in which they agreed to separate trials to avoid a constitutional no-no of using a statement from one defendant as evidence against the other.

The prosecutors wrote in a motion they have decided not to use either man’s statement at trial. They argue the case has already been delayed during the appellate fight, and separate trials would prolong a final resolution.

Although they did not address the accuser’s statement on the nature of the sexual encounter while Lawn was in the room, Hixson and Nassios contended in their motion the accuser was raped by both Johnson and Wiliams after Lawn left.

“The state’s proof will show that the defendants raped the victim at the same time while the three of them were alone in defendant Johnson’s bedroom,” the pair wrote. “The state’s proof as to one defendant will be virtually identical to the proof as to the other.”

But attorney Johnson countered that Williams’ behavior – as alleged by Lawn and the men’s accuser – “starkly contrasts with the consensual sex occurring between Mr. (A.J.) Johnson and (the accuser).” Jurors would be unfairly prejudiced against A.J. Johnson by the evidence against Williams, the attorney wrote.

Knox County Criminal Court Judge Bob McGee will hear arguments about whether the men should be tried separately or together at a hearing Wednesday.


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