The three former MSU football players facing sexual assault charges in East Lansing have waived their rights to preliminary exams. The case will now advance to circuit court.
Josh King, 19, is facing first degree criminal sexual conduct charges for allegedly assaulting a female MSU student at party on campus in January. Those charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. He’s also facing one count of “capturing/distributing image of unclothed person,” for allegedly filming part of the assault.
Police say Demetric Vance, 20, and Donnie Corley, 19, were also involved in the alleged assault. They’re facing third degree charges and a maximum sentence of 15 years each.
After the three men were charged and pleaded not guilty in June, they were due back in court Thursday morning for preliminary exams. Those hearings allow lower court judges to hear witness testimony and evidence from both the defense and the prosecution, and decide whether the county’s case is strong enough to move forward.
Waiving that exam means the cases will now proceed as if the judge had ruled there was enough evidence against the defendants to move to circuit court. But it also gives the defense team more time to review evidence, talk to witnesses, and refine their strategies before they have to start making their case in court.
“We made a strategic decision that we believe is best for Mr. Vance’s case,” defense attorney Mary Chartier said via text Thursday. John Shea, who represents Donnie Corley, declined a request for comment, as did Josh King’s attorney, Shannon Smith.
What police say happened in the early morning hours of January 16th
MSU Police Detective Chad Davis told Judge Richard Ball back in June that the victim, identified only as "Jane Doe", reported the alleged assault to the police on January 17th. The night before, she said, she was at a party in the University Village Apartments, when she started talking with Josh King. She and King had met before, and King asked her if she wanted to go “speak somewhere quiet,” Davis said.
King pulled her into a bathroom and tried to initiate sex, but she told him no. At that point, she says King forced her to perform oral sex on him. Again, she told him she didn’t want to “do anything else,” Davis says, but King “pulled her pants down and penetrated her vaginally with his penis.”
Then King allegedly brought his two fellow MSU football players, Donnie Corley and Demetric Vance, into the bathroom one at a time. He forced the victim to perform oral sex on them as well, Davis told the court. “The victim asked all to stop. The victim said she eventually collapsed to the floor and all three suspects left the bathroom promptly.”
Police say King agreed to be interviewed on January 26th, and while he confirmed that he was at that party, he denied having sex with anybody at the party, and stuck to that story even after police showed him two pictures of the alleged victim.
“When presented with information, King later changed his statement and admitted he had sexual contact with the victim in the bathroom at the party,” Davis said.
Police got a warrant for his cellphone and found “a suspicious text message” thread with Corley, Vance, and a fourth unnamed player on the football team, “indicating involvement in the sexual assault by King, Corley and Vance.” They also found video on the phone of King “having sex with the victim,” which she told police she didn’t know had been recorded.
Investigators also received search warrants for Corley and Vance’s rooms, took their cellphones, and questioned Corley and Vance on February 7th.
Both men initially denied having any contact with anyone at the party, but later said they they’d received oral sex from a girl they didn’t know in the bathroom, and identified a picture of her for police. Both Corley and Vance told police they’d seen King having sex with the victim when they entered the bathroom.
All three men had been suspended from the MSU football team while the investigation was ongoing, and were kicked off the team the day prosecutors announced charges against them. They were also expelled from the university following a Title IX investigation.
Men will be proven innocent, defense attorneys say
All three defendants have maintained their innocence through statements and filings from their attorneys.
“Mr. Vance…vehemently denies any wrongdoing and will exercise his unwavering right to test the veracity of the complainant’s and other witnesses’ testimony,” his attorney, Mary Chartier, wrote in a motion filed last month. Chartier was granted transcripts of witnesses who were subpoenaed by investigators, at least one of whom she said had provided police with “exculpatory information” about Vance.
But the judge declined her second request: copies of a police report from the victim’s “prior allegation of criminal sexual conduct” in a separate case. “Counsel has learned that the complainant earlier made a claim of criminal sexual conduct against another young man, S.W. and alleged that this occurred in East Lansing,” Chartier wrote in the motion. Police had returned her Freedom of Information Act requests for the report. But that information could help Vance defend himself, the motion claimed, because it “related to bias and credibility” on the victim’s part.
Judge Ball denied that request, ruling that the previous police report didn’t pertain to Vance’s case - at least, not while the case was still at the preliminary exam stage.
Josh King’s attorney, Shannon Smith, reportedly told the court that additional video on King’s cellphone would prove that the incident in the bathroom had been consensual. So far, police hadn’t been able to open those files. “I believe once we are able to open those videos... it will show this was consensual," Smith said, according to the Lansing State Journal. "We have a very strong defense."