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Elam takes the stand in his defense

Scott Brodfuehrer and Meghanne Downes | Friday, August 29, 2003

SOUTH BEND – Former Notre Dame safety Abram Elam took the stand in his defense Friday and acknowledged that he fondled his accuser and three of his teammates had sex with her, but maintained that the acts were consensual.

Both sides finished presenting their cases Friday, and the jury is scheduled to hear closing arguments Saturday morning before beginning deliberations.

Elam is charged with conspiracy to commit rape, sexual battery and sexual deviate conduct. His other three former teammates – Lorenzo Crawford, Justin Smith and Donald Dykes – face the same charges in addition to a felony rape charge. The three other players testified Thursday in exchange for an immunity agreement that their testimony would not be used in their trials, which are scheduled to begin over the next three months.

During his testimony Friday, Elam admitted to fondling the woman while she was kissing his former teammate Justin Smith in the basement of his off-campus house on Warrick Street. Smith had invited the woman to his house after they danced with each other at State Theatre in South Bend during the early morning hours of March 28, 2002.

Elam claimed he had gone to Smith’s house with Lorenzo Crawford after spending the evening at the State Theatre. Elam said he was good friends with Smith and often spent time at his house.

Following the initial incident in the basement, Elam said he went upstairs to Smith’s bedroom to locate a condom.

“…I thought [the victim] was feeling for me,” Elam said.

He said that while he was searching for the condom, he heard someone come upstairs and he hid in Smith’s closet so he would not be discovered.

Elam said Smith and the woman entered the room and began to kiss, at which point Elam testified he came out of his hiding place and said he probably touched the woman’s hips and legs. Then, he said the woman asked him if he had a girlfriend and he eventually left the room. He said he then put his ear to the door and later heard someone come to the door, prompting him to hold it closed because he said he did not want the two to know he had been eavesdropping on them.

“I grabbed and held the doorknob, I didn’t hear anyone on the other end. I held it for a couple seconds, I felt a tug … I dashed off to the room across from Justin,” Elam said.

Elam said he later returned to the room and saw Crawford, Smith and the woman engaging in sexual activity.

The woman testified these acts were not consensual, while the football players contend it was.

Elam came back into the room and said he was wearing his shorts, but removed them while he was in the room. Elam said Smith eventually got up and may have left the room. At that time, he said he exchanged words with the woman, “to ask her about having sex.” He said the woman refused and again asked, “Don’t you have a girlfriend?”

Thursday, Dykes and Smith testified that the woman specifically said no to Elam’s request, citing the fact that he had a girlfriend.

Elam said Smith and Crawford again began to engage in sexual activity with the woman and he removed his shorts and began to fondle her. He denied, however, the woman’s claim that he put his fingers inside her at any point during the incident.

Special prosecutor Maureen Devlin cross-examined Elam, asking him if the woman gave him permission to touch her. Elam responded that the woman neither gave him permission to touch her nor told him not to touch her.

The prosecution rested its case this morning following the testimony of a rape counselor from the Madison Center who said the woman’s reactions after the incident were consistent with reactions of someone who had been raped, though she admitted she was unaware the woman had been treated for depression. The defense also asked for summary judgment on the count of conspiracy to commit rape, saying the prosecution did not provide sufficient evidence, but Judge Roland Chamblee denied this request.

The jury heard testimony Friday from Smith’s roommate, then-Notre Dame student John Scroggins, who said he had gone to bed before Smith returned home that night, and woke up twice during the night but did not hear any screaming or other unusual noises. He said he woke up when the door to the house opened and later woke up to use the bathroom. Scroggins’ room was adjacent to Smith’s and he testified that he had previously woken up when Smith was talking on the phone in his room.

Jurors also watched the video deposition of Saint Mary’s student Abbie Plucincowski, a freshman who was in the house at the time of the incident, who said she did not recall hearing any screaming, although she said she was intoxicated when she came to the house and did not remember some portions of the evening.

The defense also recalled Bill Kirk, associate vice president for residence life for the University. Kirk said he “absolutely did not” tell the alleged victim not to contact the police with her story, contradicting what the woman said in court earlier this week.

“I know I did not dissuade her from reporting the incident to the police. That is not my practice or policy. I did not do that, it would have unethical and inappropriate,” said Kirk.

During Devlin’s cross-examination, Kirk said it was possible that he told the victim it might be easier if she solely went through the University’s disciplinary process.

“I think dealing with [the incident] in the University forum is easier than in this public forum … this is a stressful setting for me and everyone involved. But I would not say that to her in an effort for her not to pursue [legal action],” Kirk said.

Another witnesses for the defense was Memorial Hospital Emergency Room physician Robert Blakesely, who testified there was no physical evidence of forcible rape when the woman went to the hospital on April 2, six days after the alleged incident.

The defense rested its case by playing a video interview of the woman by two St. Joseph County Police officers performed on April 8, 2002. The jury was instructed by Chamblee not to consider the video as substantive evidence, but to use it to evaluate how the expert witnesses formulated their opinions.

During the video interview, the woman provided police with an account of the evening, but sometimes laughed or cracked jokes with the officers. She said on the videotape she objected to Elam’s advances the most strenuously of the four men.