Updates from Friday, May 2
Franklin talked about the rape case with Penn State players during a meeting, according to Bob Flanders of PennLive.com:
Franklin said he had a Penn State team meeting Wednesday to discuss a number of topics and part of that discussion involved the Vanderbilt rape case.
“Yeah, I was open and honest with my team as I possibly can be,’’ Franklin said late Thursday afternoon during a media conference inside the Pegula Ice Arena in State College to kick off the Penn State Coaches Caravan.
“We had a team meeting on Wednesday to go over a lot of these things that we’ve been talking about and make sure that we finish strong academically and I covered that (the Vanderbilt rape case) with them.
“We put a power point presentation up every single day, every time that we have a team meeting and it shows examples of things that are going on in this country and, um, for them to hopefully learn from.
“And that was one of them. I shared with them what I could just like I’m sharing with you guys today what I can.’’
Updates from Thursday, May 1
The Associated Press reports that a Tennessee prosecutor believes Franklin didn't necessarily do anything wrong:
Penn State football coach James Franklin did nothing "inappropriate" in contacting the woman who claims four of Franklin's former players at Vanderbilt University raped her last year, a Tennessee prosecutor said Thursday.
"I can't comment on it much other than to say the statement we've always made is there is no indication that coach Franklin did anything inappropriate in this investigation," Nashville Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1lDBY8Z) in a telephone interview.
Any contact Franklin had with the woman wasn't significant to the case, Thurman added.
Updates from Wednesday, April 30
District Attorney General Torry Johnson released a statement on the defense, via Tony Gonzalez of The Tennessean:
This is an obvious tactical ploy by (Brandon Vandenburg’s) attorneys to intimidate the victim and malign veteran prosecutors and experienced police detectives by circulating unfounded allegations that not only can taint a potential jury pool but also prevent the State of Tennessee and the victim from obtaining a fair trial.
The fact is, our office has given defense counsel for all four defendants complete access to the investigative file as the materials have become available. I should emphasize that the discovery information we have provided far exceeds what is legally required by our rules of criminal procedure. In spite of the tactics these defense attorneys have chosen to employ, we remain committed to providing full and open discovery to all attorneys in this case.
Our office has repeatedly stated that we will not try this case in the media; however, given this latest motion, we can’t let these baseless allegations go without a response. I want to make it clear that the claims alleged by Mr. Vandenburg’s defense team will be addressed fully in court.
In a motion that will undoubtedly spark quizzical interest from Happy Valley all the way to NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, attorneys for former Vanderbilt player Brandon Vandenburg allege Penn State head football coach James Franklin and another coach contacted the woman who accused Vandenburg and four other players with sexual assault last year.
The filing, obtained by Tony Gonzalez of The Tennessean, features a litany of allegations of impropriety from prosecutors and university officials regarding the case. It asks the judge to dismiss the criminal case against Vandenburg because "crucial and material information to the defense of Vandenburg was destroyed or not preserved."
Franklin later responded to the report (via ESPN Big Ten):
While Franklin is not directly accused of destroying evidence—in total, Vandenburg's defense team says more than 27,000 messages and numerous calls from the victim's phone, DNA from another man and more were missing—his name comes up multiple times as having contacted the victim.
According to the documents, Franklin and director of performance enhancement Dwight Galt, who were at Vanderbilt at the time of the allegations, contacted the victim four days after the alleged rape. Franklin and Galt contacted her during a medical exam to express their concern because she had allegedly helped Vanderbilt with recruiting in the past—though what her duties entailed are unclear.
What is clear is that Franklin may have broken NCAA rules via his interactions with the victim. The filing alleges he summoned the woman to his office one day for a meeting and said, "he wanted her to get fifteen pretty girls together and form a team to assist with the recruiting even though he knew it was against the rules. He added that all the other colleges did it."
Franklin, 42, left Vanderbilt after three seasons to take Penn State's vacant head coaching job. He took over for Bill O'Brien, who coached the Nittany Lions in 2012 and 2013 before going to the NFL's Houston Texans this winter.
Despite the upheaval, Franklin's short tenure in State College has been defined by his knack for signing top-level recruits. The Nittany Lions currently have the nation's third-best recruiting class for the Class of 2015, per 247Sports' composite rankings, behind only Alabama and Auburn.
More distressing than his possibly illegal recruiting tactics is his link to any sexual-assault case, period. Penn State is still in the midst of serving an unprecedented NCAA punishment in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal. The governing body has begun reinstating scholarships, but Penn State is still banned for bowl games for two more seasons and is serving other additional penalties.
Franklin's hiring at Penn State was the source of widespread controversy. Numerous national columnists and even alumni wondered whether it was in the university's best interest to hire someone tangentially associated with sexual assault.
Five players—Vandenburg, Chris Boyd, Cory Batey, Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie—were arrested last year and charged on aggravated rape and sexual battery charges. All have been dismissed from the team.
However, Franklin's involvement with the case itself has been the cause of speculation. A report from Buzzfeed's Bobby Allyn in September claimed Franklin told a player to delete an incriminating video of the alleged incident after it was showed to him. Franklin has vehemently denied those and all allegations related to the case.
“There’s nobody that understands the seriousness of this situation more than me,” Franklin told reporters in September. “I could not be more sympathetic to the alleged victim. It’s a very, very serious issue, and I’m not going to waste your time or mine reacting to baseless statements. I’m not going to do it."
While not as incriminating as a willful destroying of evidence, the allegations presented by Vandenburg's attorney are bound to strike a chord. The wounds are still raw in State College. Plans to erect a second statue of former head coach Joe Paterno downtown were recently revealed, per Josh Moyer of ESPN, which drew an online petition from those in the community concerned about its message.
If true, the allegations levied against Franklin will only serve as another lightning rod. His text messages back and forth with the victim were among the items said to be missing from files. Context is also necessary in rendering judgement, because it is not clear what the nature of Franklin's conversations with the victim were or whether they happened in the first place.
But for a school that's been so eager to move on from its sordid past, this news can't be going over well at Penn State.
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