The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Jury awards Jefferson victim $1M

Meghanne Downes | Wednesday, September 24, 2003

A jury awarded a former Saint Mary’s student $1 million Tuesday during the civil trial of former Notre Dame football player Clifford Jefferson, who was accused of sexually assaulting the woman in March 2001.

The woman’s attorneys, Michael Anderson and Lee Korzan, originally asked for $10 million in punitive damages and $2 million in compensatory damages. The woman received $500,000 in punitive damages and $500,000 in compensatory damages.

The woman claimed Jefferson gave her and others a ride from Benchwarmers Sports Lounge, a downtown South Bend bar, to her dorm, McCandless Hall, and then walked her back to the lobby. She admitted she was intoxicated and did not remember how she ended up back in Jefferson’s car outside her dorm where the assault occurred. She said Jefferson raped her and forced her to perform sexual acts on him as she passed in and out of consciousness.

“He had sex with me,” she testified. “I did not want to have sex with him.”

Jefferson, who represented himself because he claimed he cannot afford to hire an attorney, described the event in detail during his opening argument and maintained the acts were consensual.

“I didn’t grab her or force her to do anything,” Jefferson said.

During the two-day trial, the plaintiff’s attorneys attempted to show the emotional impact the incident had on the woman and called as witnesses her psychologist, some of her friends and a Saint Mary’s professor. The woman, who was a freshman at the time, said the incident that occurred March 22, 2001 was so traumatic that she transferred from Saint Mary’s to a university closer to her Pittsburgh home and that on the first anniversary of the incident she overdosed on antidepressants.

When Jefferson questioned the woman on cross-examination why she had not pressed charges, she responded she was traumatized when she went to Memorial Hospital on March 22, 2001 and was scared she would lose her scholarship because she had been drinking underage. Evidence collected at the hospital was not saved, she said.

Jefferson testified Tuesday, and he did not call any defense witnesses. The jury’s verdict comes following a two-and-a-half-year process, during which Jefferson failed to appear at multiple court proceedings and repeatedly did not cooperate with his own attorneys and the plaintiff’s attorneys. His most recent attorney withdrew himself from the case in October 2002 because he was unable to contact Jefferson once he returned to Texas and claimed Jefferson was uncooperative.

The civil trial was supposed to begin Jan. 21, 2003 but was delayed when Jefferson, who had missed several other court appearances, unexpectedly appeared in court. Judge Jenny Pitts Manier, who had not called a jury because she did not think Jefferson would appear, then denied the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and recused herself from the case. Before recusing herself, Manier had withdrawn most of the requests for admissions that Jefferson had failed to respond to in November 2002. Failure to respond is considered an admission of guilt.