Former Baylor University football player Shawn Oakman is asking a judge to move his sexual assault trial from McLennan County, alleging the Baylor sexual assault scandal and the case against a former fraternity president have created a “toxic environment” that could prevent a fair trial.
Oakman’s attorney, Alan Bennett, filed the change of venue motion Thursday afternoon, and 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother set a hearing for Feb. 1 to consider the request.
Accompanying the motion are affidavits from Oakman and Waco attorneys Guy Cox, Mark Morris and Will Conrad, all contending “the publicity surrounding the Baylor scandal and exacerbated by the (Jacob) Anderson case has created so great a prejudice against Shawn Oakman that he cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial in McLennan County.”
Oakman’s trial, which has been reset a number of times, is set now for Feb. 25.
Assistant District Attorney Robert Moody said the district attorney’s office will oppose the change of venue motion.
Oakman, a former Baylor defensive end, was indicted on charges he sexually assaulted a Baylor student at his apartment in April 2016, after his record-setting football career at Baylor was over. He has said he dated the woman previously and that the sexual encounter was consensual.
Oakman has since rejected a plea bargain from prosecutors that called for him to be placed on deferred probation in exchange for his guilty plea. Bennett said Oakman turned down the offer because he is not guilty and wants to clear his name in court.
“The publicity from the Baylor sexual assault scandal and ongoing litigation is well documented,” Bennett said Thursday. “Shawn’s arrest occurred in the midst of that. The recent explosion of news media attention and negative commentary on social media regarding the Jacob Anderson case has only exacerbated the local awareness of sexual assault allegations involving current or former Baylor students.
“After conferring with local experts and with the Oakman family, we decided it is in Shawn’s best interest to seek a change of venue for the reasons we stated in the motion,” he said.
Bennett noted in the motion that Strother, after conferring with prosecutors and a defense attorney, postponed a sexual assault trial in the week following the turmoil generated after Strother accepted a plea agreement and placed former Baylor fraternity president Jacob Anderson on deferred probation for three years on a lesser charge of unlawful restraint.
Strother, his staff and prosecutors “were swamped for weeks with innumerable, hostile and threatening telephone calls and emails,” the change of venue motion states. “And the toxic environment created by the Anderson case caused the court to postpone a child sexual abuse trial scheduled a week later because of concerns of selecting an unbiased and impartial jury.”
Amid the social media furor over the Anderson plea agreement, UT-Dallas officials kicked Anderson off campus and did not allow him to participate in his graduation ceremony. They also said he could not attend graduate school there.
Bennett previously filed a motion to postpone a previous September trial date for Oakman because an important character witness for Oakman, former Baylor coach Brian Norwood, was not available then. Bennett also filed a motion to change venue before the September trial date.
Norwood, who coached at Baylor from 2008 to 2014, recruited Oakman, who transferred to Baylor from Penn State University.
Oakman has been free on bond since shortly after his arrest. He since has played for the Bismarck (North Dakota) Bucks of the Champions Indoor Football League for $200 a game. He is now working in Dallas as a personal trainer, Bennett said.