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Former Baylor student testifies that Oakman raped her in 2016
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

A former Baylor University student testified Wednesday that former Baylor football player Shawn Oakman prevented her from leaving his off-campus duplex in April 2016 and raped her.

Prosecutors Robert Moody and Hilary LaBorde called eight witnesses Wednesday, the opening day of testimony in the 26-year-old Oakman’s sexual assault trial, and said they will rest their case against Oakman in the morning after the testimony of Waco psychologist Lee Carter.

The alleged victim, who was a 22-year-old graduate student working on her master’s in public health at the time, said she texted Oakman and invited him to meet her and her friends that night at Scruffy Murphy’s, a Baylor-area bar. She said she had been drinking with her friends at an apartment and at Cricket’s, another bar, and was drunk before she got to Scruffy Murphy’s, where she had more drinks.

She said she met Oakman the year before and they had a sexual relationship that lasted for awhile before they agreed to part as friends. She said her memory of the night is “spotty” but that she remembers standing on the porch of Oakman’s James Avenue duplex, which is just behind Scruffy Murphy’s.

She said Oakman had to hold her up while he was trying to open the door because she was so drunk. She said it is possible that is how she might have received a bruise on her arm that prosecutors showed the jury a photo of.

She said she wanted to leave, but Oakman would not allow it. She said the next thing she remembers is being face-down on Oakman’s bed while he removed her clothes and raped her. She said Oakman later turned her over and raped her again.

After the alleged assault, she wanted to leave, saying she was in such a hurry she put her shirt and jacket on inside-out and left behind her underwear and an earring. She said at first, she did not want to tell her friends what happened, but they coaxed it out of her because they could tell something was wrong.

“I knew something had happened to me and I knew it wasn’t right,” she said.

She said she has not been able to live alone since the incident, she sometimes has to sleep with her mother and has frequent nightmares. She cannot sleep in a room with the door closed and is paranoid, anxious and fearful, she told the jury, crying softly throughout much of her testimony.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Former Baylor football player Shawn Oakman enters 19th State District Court on Wednesday, the first day of testimony in his sexual assault trial.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Alan Bennett asked her about a series of text messages she sent that night. One was to Oakman earlier in the evening, and others were to her friends at bar closing time. Her friend, Alicia Duval, asked her if she was going to be OK and if she was leaving with Oakman. She told Duval to go on home, she would be fine.

Duval texted back, telling her not to feel pressured to stay at Oakman’s. She texted she would be OK, and Duval responded, “OK, ballin’, have fun.”

She told Bennett she does not remember telling Waco police Officer Danny Pilgrim, the state’s first witness, that Oakman choked her. Pilgrim and Michele Davis, a sexual assault forensic examiner, both testified that the woman did not appear overly intoxicated at the hospital during her examination, but both said she was very upset.

However, the woman told Bennett she threw up at the hospital, so it should have been clear to the officer and others that she was drunk.

Davis, a nurse at the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children who has performed more than 500 sexual assault exams, said the woman told her Oakman raped her. Davis said she told her Oakman also choked her and that she noted in her report that the woman said Oakman enjoyed her struggle for breath.

Davis said her exam revealed six vaginal tears, three areas of bruising, redness and bleeding, all consistent with sexual assault. She noted in her report the woman told her, “He turned me over and got on top of me. I just zoned out and I was so scared and wanted to leave.”

Davis cited studies that found 6 to 10 percent of people engaging in consensual sex report redness, bruising or tearing. In cases of sexual assulat, injuries are four to 20 times more likely, Davis told the jury.

Bennett told jurors in opening statements that the woman willingly had sex with Oakman that night.

Duval and another of the woman’s friends, Kaitlyn Prelde, both said the woman was disheveled, panicky, upset and crying when they saw her after she left Oakman’s duplex. She said she reluctantly told them what happened, not wanting to report it at first because of the notoriety surrounding Oakman, Baylor’s all-time sack leader and a potential NFL draft pick.

After convincing her to go to the hospital, the woman, who they described as “emotionally drained,” stayed with Duval for a few days.

“It was like the life was sucked out of her,” Duval said. “It’s still like that. It’s just very hard seeing your best friend go from being very happy to not wanting to live anymore.”

Pam McKown, a therapist who treated the woman, said she diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder.

Bennett and co-counsel Jessi Freud told Visiting Judge Michael Snipes late Wednesday that they intend to call about six witnesses in Oakman’s defense. They did not reveal if Oakman will testify.

editor's pick
Brazos Valley Cheese planning East Waco food hub
 Mike Copeland  / 

Artisan cheeses aging in a frigid room highlight visits to a proposed food hub at Dallas and McKeen streets in East Waco, where generations of farmers sold produce, tomatoes from Mexico were processed, and a towheaded youngster named Sam Brown enjoyed childhood visits.

It is here, a short walk from Lake Brazos, Elm Avenue and land clearing for new hotels, that Brazos Valley Cheese owner Marc Kuehl envisions food preparation space for caterers and food truck operators, a virtual restaurant, test kitchens, cooking demonstrations, refrigerated food storage areas, offices and venues for labeling or packaging food products.

And it is already aging space for Brazos Valley Cheese, a company Kuehl and his cousin, Rebeccah Salmeri, founded in 2005. Its clients include restaurants and hotels in Texas’ larger cities, and about six months ago it inked a deal with H-E-B to place its gouda, cheddar and proprietary Van Sormon cheeses in more than 20 stores, including Waco’s.

Kevin Durkin, who manages Brazos Valley Cheese and whose background includes founding a company in the Northeast that takes apart old farmhouses board by board for reassembly elsewhere, confirmed this week he and investors bought a 22,000-square-foot piece of the old C.M. Brown Produce Co. complex in East Waco from siblings Sam Brown and Cathy Turner.

Workers will spend several months on a makeover that includes cosmetic touches and remodeling where needed, Durkin said. The undertaking will last four months, after which space will be allocated to potential users during a phased-in approach lasting through the year, he said.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Craig Miller (from left), Kevin Durkin, Bethel Erickson-Bruce and son, Gus, Gidon Rosing, Tony Berotte and Marc Kuehl are involved in the planned food hub.

Eventually the site will sport features including a coffee roasting room and espresso machine, a kitchen devoted to gluten-free recipes, tutoring for would-be restaurant owners, and chef-led classes, Kuehl said.

Brown, an executive at Extraco Banks, said he and Turner were picky in choosing Durkin’s investment group from among multiple suitors.

“We were looking for people who specifically want to be in East Waco,” Brown said. “We were not interested in speculators, those who would hold and flip the property. We wanted a buyer who respected the community, and I believe these folks fit that description, have that desire. They sought us out. They have such a history of quality work with everything they produce — furniture, food, musical instruments, their agricultural practices. They have a reputation for doing things right.”

Durkin said he and several others involved in creating the food hub are members of Homestead Heritage, where residents raise crops and livestock and eat what they produce. They also make soap, furniture and clothing, operate a blacksmith shop, and host events celebrating their lifestyle. But the hub is not a Homestead Heritage venture, Durkin said.

East Waco legacy

Douglas Brown, Sam Brown’s father, died unexpectedly on Sept. 11, 2009, leaving a legacy commitment to turning around East Waco. His father owned 16 acres scattered around East Waco, including the prospective food hub site, which his grandfather constructed in 1953, Brown said.

“He sold produce out of a fruit stand downtown, and this made him a little more legitimate, you might say,” Brown said. “It was my family’s business for a couple of generations. For a time, the old farmers’ market was located there. I remember as a kid working a booth, selling tomatoes. We would buy tomatoes from fields in South Texas, Mexico and California, and sometimes Florida, sort and grade them, age them, and sell to grocery stores and restaurants. One customer was Hoffman Banana Company.”

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Signage for the C.M. Brown Produce Co., a former user of the space, will be displayed on the grounds Brazos Valley Cheese recently bought with plans to develop a food hub in the coming year.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte  

A farmers market once operated at the East Waco facility recently bought by Brazos Valley Cheese.

Megan Henderson, executive director of City Center Waco, said the collaboration is “exciting and ambitious” and that the site is prime for continued development that could benefit the area.

Possibly as a related development, City Center Waco has bought buildings at 209 and 211 Elm Avenue from Sam Brown, using proceeds from the sale of the Stratton Building. The nonprofit is pursuing money to remodel the combined 5,000-square-foot interiors, and an East Waco advisory group has been meeting to discuss best uses, Henderson said. It would not be outlandish to picture a food-related occupant taking a portion, she said.

Bethel Erickson-Bruce, manager of the Waco Downtown Farmers Market, toured the hub Wednesday. She has been promised office space there.

“This is a nice opportunity for me and others to be around people in the food industry, to work on projects and events,” Erickson-Bruce said. “I could see our vendors or members of the food truck community using this as a commissary. This could not have come at a better time, considering the shortage of options in food prep. Work continues on improving our farmers market availability, creating an online store for preordering produce to be picked up on Tuesdays.

“I’m also excited to get to partner with a new venture that is embracing the history of what this used to be,” including home to lessee Heart of Texas Produce that closed in December 2017 after more than two decades.

Craig Miller, a third-generation dairy farmer and owner of Mill-King Market & Creamery, has staked out 3,000 square feet in the proposed hub. He was on site Wednesday and said customers for his milk and other dairy products include Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits, Whole Foods, Heritage Creamery, Drug Emporium and Central Market.

“This gives me more production space,” Miller said.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Brazos Valley Cheese co-founder Marc Kuehl (right) and consultant Gidon Rosing hold up a photo of a previous operation in the building Brazos Valley recently bought. The cheese-maker is already using part of the facility and plans to develop a food hub with the remainder.

Gidon Rosing, a businessman with experience in food and beverage franchising, will serve as the hub’s director of operations. Rosing said he met Kuehl and Durkin about 18 months ago, found their pitch impressive, and agreed to provide counsel.

“We’ve been told that without this building, had we started from scratch, the cost would have been $2 million,” Rosing said.

He deferred comment on the projected actual cost to Durkin, who declined to discuss numbers.

Local dairy industry

He did say Brazos Valley Cheese buys milk from five local dairy farms, all family owned. He pays $22 a hundred pounds, though the going rate now is $15 to $16 a hundred weight. He said the entity has a soft spot for family owned farms, especially those willing to meet rigorous production standards.

“We’re producing 3,000 pounds of cheese a week, at the artisan level, and we’re supporting local dairies, which are facing a crisis,” Durkin said. “They are being paid for milk what they were being paid in the ’70s. There is a crisis in the dairy industry, with the massive industrialized dairies actually over-producing and the family farms having to go out of business.”

Steve Denton said he sells Brazos Valley Cheese 2,400 gallons of milk weekly from grass-fed cows.

“We are 20 minutes away from their plant in Gholson, and they begin cheese production almost immediately,” Denton said.

Baylor picks scientist for top academic post
 Phillip Ericksen  / 

Baylor University President Linda Livingstone has picked a Baylor graduate and scientist as the school’s next provost, or chief academic officer, a position that has seen quick turnover in recent years.

Nancy Brickhouse, who served as provost of Saint Louis University from 2015 to last year, will assume the role at Baylor on May 1, Livingstone announced Wednesday. The position has turned over five times in the last four years, with interim and permanent provosts coming and going, and is now shared by a duo of interim leaders.

Brickhouse has a record of expanding research activity in higher education, which fits with the goals of Livingstone’s academic plan. Before taking the top academic job at the Catholic university in Missouri, she had previously logged 27 years of work in senior administrative positions at the University of Delaware. She earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Baylor in 1983. At Purdue University, she earned her master’s degree in chemistry and her doctorate in science education.

“With a deep background in both teaching and research as well as ties to Baylor as an undergraduate, we are extremely pleased that Dr. Brickhouse will be our next provost,” Livingstone said in a statement. “Our aspirations are great as we grow Baylor’s research impact while maintaining our strong tradition of undergraduate education in an unambiguously Christian environment. Dr. Brickhouse not only understands this distinctiveness, but embraces the belief that the world, and higher education in particular, needs a Baylor. We look forward to benefiting from her experiences as an academic leader, scholar and advocate for Christian higher education.”

Livingstone’s “Illuminate” plan calls for a sharp increase in Baylor’s graduate and doctoral student population and dedicated fundraising for academic research. The $1.3 billion endowment will need to be doubled, and new academic facilities must be built in order to achieve the ultimate goal: tier-one status, denoting Baylor as a top research institution.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Baylor University has named Nancy Brickhouse, a former provost at Saint Louis University, its next provost.

“I am deeply honored to be selected to lead Baylor’s academic endeavors at such an exciting time in the history of Baylor,” Brickhouse said in a statement. “The vision President Livingstone and her team have cast for the university is bold and aggressive under Illuminate, Baylor’s academic strategic plan. I look forward to working with the faculty, administration and board of regents to achieve Baylor’s rightful place in higher education as a distinguished Christian research university.”

Tier-one status

In an interview, Brickhouse said Livingstone’s goal for Baylor to reach tier-one status, or “R1,” in about a decade is “very realistic.”

At Saint Louis, Brickhouse’s work in her first year contributed to a 9 percent increase in research expenditures, the university said. She created a task force that led to a new science, technology, engineering and math building.

But Baylor’s push is not limited to the STEM fields, she said.

“This is an all-university effort,” Brickhouse said. “And the value that the university gets from the R1 designation is a value for the entire university. It’s important that we pay close attention to the metrics that drive R1 designation, but it’s also important that we continue to recognize the university as a whole and not simply teach to the test of the metrics.”

Her work also included a faculty development program designed to support women and historically underrepresented people in full professor and leadership positions, according to Baylor.

Livingstone said 30 percent of Baylor faculty members are set to retire in the next five to 10 years, and searches for three dean positions are planned for the next year.

“There’s tremendous opportunity to really make progress on diversity, both in the leadership of the institution as well as in our faculty ranks, in the next five to 10 years,” Livingstone said in an interview.

Looking for stability

With Brickhouse’s hire, Baylor is looking for stability in its top academic post. Since 2015, the position of Baylor’s chief academic officer has been a rotating chair of new hires and interims.

In 2015, then-President Ken Starr brought on Edwin Trevathan, a pediatric neurologist also from Saint Louis University, a Jesuit school of 8,000 undergraduate students and 6,000 graduate students.

Trevathan replaced interim provost David Garland, who had served after Elizabeth Davis stepped down to become president of Furman University in South Carolina.

Less than eight months into the job, Trevathan resigned, saying the position was “not a good fit.”

His resignation came amid tense faculty debate over whether and how the university should pursue diversity goals.

Todd Still, dean of Truett Seminary, served as interim provost until May 16, 2016, when Starr hired Greg Jones, a Duke Divinity School strategist and administrator. Jones also served as executive vice president of Baylor.

Ten days later, the board of regents fired Starr amid a sexual assault scandal and tapped Jones to lead a task force on “spiritual life and character formation.” In June 2017, shortly after Livingstone started as president, Jones resigned.

Livingstone named Michael McLendon, then dean of Baylor’s school of education, as interim provost, but he resigned nine months later, citing personal and medical reasons.

Livingstone then appointed two top Baylor administrators to split provost duties.

She named music school Dean Gary Mortenson acting vice provost of administration and management professor Gary Carini vice provost of graduate professional education.

Livingstone said Baylor officials discussed the university’s need for stability with all candidates throughout the almost two-year search.

Brickhouse said she will spend the comings months meeting with the academic leadership of the university.

“The provost is really at the academic heart of the institution,” Brickhouse said. “The provost is the one closest to the faculty and the students, and that’s why I love the role, why I feel so blessed to be asked to play that role at Baylor University, a university that has meant so much to me both personally and professionally.”

Ernesto Garcia  

Baylor guard King McClure (3) drives to the basket past Texas guard Jase Febres (13) in the first half.

editor's pick
Waco ISD to pay for certification, then master's degree for new teachers
 Brooke Crum  / 

Starting next month, Waco Independent School District plans to recruit future educators who still need their teaching certificates for a program that will allow them to earn their certificates and, eventually, a master’s degree, all on the district’s tab.

In January, the Transformation Waco board of trustees approved the posting of a request for proposals for a contractor to provide a combined master’s degree and alternative certification program, which is a nontraditional path to earn a teaching certificate that allows college graduates to teach while completing the certification requirements. The pilot program will be restricted to Waco ISD’s five Transformation Waco schools.

State grants awarded to Transformation Waco will pay for the program, although a definite cost will not be determined until a contractor is selected, said Robin McDurham, CEO of the in-district charter school system known as Transformation Waco. Transformation Zone staff is interviewing potential contractors now.

The school district intends for the alternative certification program to combat high teacher turnover in Waco ISD, particularly in the Transformation Waco schools, McDurham said. For the past three years, Waco ISD averaged a 24 percent teacher turnover rate, losing more than 200 teachers a year, compared to the statewide average of 16 percent. The district hired 204 new teachers for this school year, including 87 who were completing an alternative certification program.

“We want to follow the research that says that teachers stay in high-poverty schools because they have a cohort of colleagues who are working toward the same goals,” McDurham said. “Dallas, for instance, has a program they’ve built upon that research, and they recruit their best teachers to chronically low-performing schools in cohorts. Dallas has a talent base that’s so big they can do that. Waco ISD cannot recruit high-performing teachers without gutting other schools.”

The five Transformation Waco schools are Indian Spring Middle School, G.W. Carver Middle School, Alta Vista Elementary School, Brook Avenue Elementary School and J.H. Hines Elementary School.

‘Optimal’ teaching route

Dallas ISD created its alternative certification program almost two decades ago, but the district recently redesigned it to compete with other school districts in the area, said Torey Willis, alternative certification program director. For professionals changing careers, the program is the “optimal route” for them to earn their teaching certifications, Willis said.

“The nation is chewing through teachers,” McDurham said. “They’re leaving the field in really high numbers.”

Typically, teachers leave the profession in the first three years of teaching, she said. That is why the alternative certification program has the additional master’s degree component, which requires teachers to remain with the district during the three years it takes to earn their master’s and for two subsequent years.

Incentive to stay

Often, teachers with alternative certifications leave education because they set high expectations for themselves in the field in which they earned their degree and do not know how to apply their degree to teaching, McDurham said. They do not have the experience in teaching to know they are doing well, but this program will provide support for those teachers and a master’s degree incentive for them to stay.

“The teachers who are certified this year will have a role with the next cohort because that’s what we want. We want to build the team where everyone is working together toward the same outcomes and that the habits that are formed are habits in which iron sharpens iron,” she said. “We know that a master’s degree isn’t critical to the success of an alternative certification teacher, but we’re paying for the master’s degree because we know it will help, and we also know we want to recruit someone who wants to get their master’s degree.”

This will give the district the ability to pick high-quality candidates to participate in the program, McDurham said. The district knows the program will be competitive because it already has received calls about it, and it has not been formally announced.

“You want someone who wants to grow, not just a job,” said Donna McKethan, the director of career and technical education in the district who also has taught alternative certification programs. “That master’s piece does that.”

Willis said her advice to a district starting a new alternative certification program is to know the market and what other programs are offered in the area. Waco ISD should find ways to set itself apart from other programs, and that can be done by leveraging staff with a “high pedigree” to help with it, she said. She also said Waco ISD should take advantage of training opportunities offered by the Texas Education Agency.

“It’s critical that any program interfaces with the agency to succeed,” Willis said.

Dallas ISD’s alternative certification program is a large contributor to the district’s teacher growth, she said. She recruits various professionals but focuses on substitute teachers and teacher assistants because they already have an interest in education and the district wants to maintain that talent base.

If all goes as planned, Transformation Waco will recruit potential teachers next month, and chosen applicants will start teaching in summer school, which lasts four to six weeks, McDurham said. The new teachers will receive feedback and support from veteran teachers during the initial summer workshop.

“They’ll have a teaching experience while they’re taking courses,” she said. “And then they’ll have time to reflect on that teaching experience and get guidance before the school year starts on some of those key challenges that you encounter during your first year of teaching.”

An alternative certification program usually costs between $4,000 and $6,000, while a master’s degree costs between $12,000 and $19,000, McDurham said. Transformation Waco will cover the costs while it works out the kinks in the pilot program, but eventually applicants will have to pay for at least some of the program if the school district wants to sustain it.

Texas' highest criminal court strikes down provision of Open Meetings Act as "unconstitutionally vague"

In a major blow to the state’s government transparency laws, Texas’ highest criminal court has struck down a significant provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act, calling it “unconstitutionally vague.”

That law, which imposes basic requirements providing for public access to and information about governmental meetings, makes it a crime for public officials to “knowingly [conspire] to circumvent this chapter by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations.” That provision aims to keep public officials from convening smaller meetings — without an official quorum present — to discuss public business outside the view of the taxpayers and the media.

Craig Doyal, the Montgomery County judge, was indicted under that statute for allegedly conducting “secret deliberations” — without a quorum of the commissioners court present — about a November 2015 county road bond. Doyal filed to have the charges dismissed, claiming the statute was unconstitutional. The case eventually made it to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which handed him a victory Wednesday. Two judges on the nine-member, all-Republican court dissented.

“We do not doubt the legislature’s power to prevent government officials from using clever tactics to circumvent the purpose and effect of the Texas Open Meetings Act,” Presiding Judge Sharon Keller wrote for the majority. “But the statute before us wholly lacks any specificity, and any narrowing construction we could impose would be just a guess, an imposition of our own judicial views. This we decline to do.”

Attorneys for Doyal argued months ago that the case should not be interpreted as a broad “take-down of the entire Texas Open Meetings Act.”

“This case is not about discussions of public matters in a quorum,” they wrote in a July 2018 brief. “This case is not about shutting out the public and the press from the political process.”

Open government

But open-government advocates warned that the ruling, while specific to one slice of the open meetings act, undermines its aims.

“I’m disappointed in the ruling,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “Some people will use it as a chance to try to get around the spirit of the law. But the vast majority of people want to follow the law and want the public to understand government and participate in government. The vast majority of public officials know they can’t go around in secret and deliberate.”

Joe Larsen, an open-government lawyer who had defended the law in the case, said the decision “removes a powerful disincentive” put in place to keep public officials from hiding public business.

Larsen said he will likely ask the high court to reconsider the case, given its high stakes.

“This provision is important because it basically addresses what are essentially closed meetings where the members of the governmental body meet in numbers less than a quorum but are acting as a quorum,” Larsen explained. “It undermines the strength of the Open Meetings Act.”

Judge Kevin Yeary, who wrote a dissenting opinion, seemed to agree about the provision’s importance.

“To provide a true disincentive, the stigma of a criminal penalty is necessary,” Yeary wrote.

“Yet another perfectly good statute falls today,” he lamented.

Open-government advocates — who are already hoping this session will be an opportunity to close gaps in the state’s transparency laws — said the Legislature should take up the issue.

“I’m still reviewing the opinion, but I think the Legislature needs to address this issue this session. This is a matter of high importance,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat who has been a leader on open-government issues. “Members of the public need to be able to trust that decisions are being made in the open, not behind closed doors.”