trial

Former Baylor University football player Sam Ukwuachu was convicted last week of the 2013 sexual assault of another former former Baylor athlete.

Staff photo— Jerry Larson

Former Baylor University football player Sam Ukwuachu was sentenced to felony probation Friday for sexually assaulting a Baylor freshman soccer player after a Homecoming party in 2013.

A jury in Waco’s 54th State District Court deliberated about three hours before rejecting prosecutors’ pleas for a lengthy prison term and recommending that Judge Matt Johnson sentence the standout defensive end to eight years probation.

Johnson bumped up that recommendation by two years, sentencing the 22-year-old Pearland native to 10 years felony probation. He also sentenced him to 180 days in the county jail, the maximum sentence he could impose as a condition of probation. Ukwuachu also must perform 400 hours of community service.

The freshman All-American at Boise State was led away to jail wearing handcuffs attached to a waist chain.

After the verdict was returned, the victim, now 20 and playing soccer at another Texas university, read a victim-impact statement.

She told Ukwuachu that she constantly questions herself about why he sexually assaulted her and that the attack left her fearful of all males, including her younger brother and father, with whom she used to be extremely close.

She said she prays that Ukwuachu asks for forgiveness one day and doesn’t attack anybody else. She said he robbed her of her virginity, adding that at times she feels like she has lost her identity and feels like now she is just the “girl who got raped.”

“At times, I want to cry a tsunami,” she said. “Not a river. Rivers are too calm and too peaceful.”

The jury of six women and six men deliberated more than five hours Thursday night before convicting Ukwuachu of sexually assaulting the then-18-year-old freshman at his South Waco apartment.

Ukwuachu insisted the encounter was consensual. His attorney, Jonathan Sibley, said Ukwuachu “will explore” the possibility of appealing the conviction.

Sibley said Ukwuachu is grateful that the jury recommended probation, but said his life as he has known it is virtually over. He will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, Sibley said.

Part of the trial focused on Baylor’s role in investigating the allegations. Bethany McCraw, an associate dean at Baylor, said she looked into the allegations and deemed there was not sufficient evidence “to move forward” with a case against Ukwuachu.

Likewise, Waco police conducted its own investigation, but did not arrest Ukwuachu. They sent it to the district attorney’s office as a screening case and Ukwuachu was indicted in June 2014.

Because Ukwuachu was not arrested before his indictment, the indictment was released under seal and Ukwuachu’s name never appeared on any indictment lists released by the district clerk’s office.

Baylor released another statement Friday at the conclusion of the trial, saying, in part, that “acts of sexual violence contradict every value Baylor University upholds as a caring, Christian community.”

Baylor President Ken Starr announced Friday that he has called for a “comprehensive internal inquiry” into the Ukwuachu case “and the conduct of the offices involved.”

Baylor law professor Jeremy Counseller will lead the review with the assistance of a faculty athletics representative to the Big 12 Conference and NCAA and a former assistant district attorney, the statement said.

After reviewing the report, Starr “will determine what additional action may be necessary,” according to the statement.

Lawyers representing Baylor attended each day of the trial.

School’s investigation

The perceived lack of thoroughness in McCraw’s investigation by prosecutors Hilary LaBorde and Robert Moody put them at odds with the associate dean and Baylor during the course of the trial. After McCraw’s testimony, in which she misspoke about an important aspect of what the victim told her, LaBorde followed her into the courthouse rotunda and angrily confronted her.

McCraw told the jury that the woman told her she kissed Ukwuachu and had oral sex with him, when she actually told her he tried to kiss her and tried to have oral sex with her before she rebuffed him.

She apologized to the jury and said she made a mistake.

In state punishment phase testimony Friday, Peni Tagive, Ukwuachu’s former roommate, testified that Ukwuachu regularly smoked marijuana and once took a pill that made him unsteady on his feet.

The woman’s father, who coached her in soccer, testified that his daughter did not sleep well for nine months after the assault, had nightmares and needed a lot of counseling.

He said the effects of the assault hindered her recovery from a knee injury and contributed to her losing her soccer scholarship at Baylor.

After the trial, the woman’s parents said in a statement that they appreciate the courage of the prosecutors for handling the case and are thankful for the hard work the jury put into the case. They said they were happy he was convicted and left it to the jury to decide what they thought was the proper punishment.

They said they are at peace and trusted the system to work.

In defense testimony, Wes Yeary, Baylor’s athletics chaplain, testified that he has gotten to know Ukwuachu since he transferred to Baylor from Boise State in 2013 and said he would be comfortable with him returning to his home any time and being around his children.

He said Ukwuachu went with his ministry on a mission trip to Zambia in Africa and helped share his faith with children and church members there.

Under cross-examination, LaBorde asked if he also knows the victim in the case, bringing an immediate objection from Dan MacLemore, who represents Baylor and was sitting in the back of the courtroom. MacLemore said he would assert the pastor’s clergy-parishioner privilege if there were questions about pastoral counseling with the victim.

After a conference in the judge’s chambers, which included the victim, Yeary testified that she told him about the assault. He said he told her that if she would have called him that night, he would have given her a ride home.

The woman reported the assault to police the next morning and went to the hospital for a sexual assault examination.

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