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Football rape trial begins

Sam Davis | Wednesday, August 27, 2003

SOUTH BEND – The trial of Abram Elam – the first of four former football players accused of taking part in the rape of a woman at an off-campus house 17 months ago – began Tuesday with opening statements and testimony from the victim.

Elam, a former Notre Dame safety, is the only one of the four not charged with rape. He is charged with conspiracy to commit rape and is accused of holding the then-20-year-old Notre Dame student down while the others attacked her. He is also charged with criminal deviate conduct and sexual battery.

The woman told police she met the men at a bar, and they lured her to a house by saying there was a party there. She said she was raped repeatedly on March 28, 2002.

Elam, receiver Lorenzo Crawford and safeties Donald Dykes and Justin Smith say they are innocent. Crawford, Dykes and Smith face rape charges. Like Elam, they also face charges of criminal deviate conduct and sexual battery.

The four were expelled from Notre Dame for sexual misconduct.Elam is accused of holding the woman captive in a bedroom against her will and fondling her while another man raped her.

The victim admitted she slept in Smith’s bed the night of the alleged incident. She told the court Tuesday she did not go to the hospital or report the rape until six days later because she was afraid.

Her testimony was interrupted by the tornado warning Tuesday afternoon and is expected to continue today.

On Aug. 1, Judge Roland Chamblee Jr. ruled that statements made by the former players during ResLife hearings can be used as evidence during the trial. The players said they believed these statements would remain confidential and said they felt they were forced to make statements in order to retain their scholarships at Notre Dame.Chamblee rejected this argument.

“The question of the pressure these men may have felt in trying to opt between remaining silent and making a statement of any sort to try to save their opportunity at scholarship does not rise to the level of coercion requiring suppression of these statements,” Chamblee wrote.Bill Kirk, associate vice president for residence life and housing, was in the courtroom lobby today and could be called to testify in the trial.

ResLife officials did not return calls requesting comment on how Chamblee’s ruling might change ResLife hearings in the future. Currently, ResLife hearings are conducted without attorneys and students are often not specifically advised beforehand why the hearing is being held.Jury selection is scheduled to begin in Dykes’ trial Sept. 8. Crawford’s trial is scheduled to begin in October and Smith’s in November.

The Associated Press and WNDU contributed to this report.