Texas appeals court overturns ex-Baylor player's conviction

DALLAS (AP) An appeals court overturned the conviction of a former Baylor football player whose sexual assault case helped ignite a scandal that engulfed the nation's largest Baptist school.

The Texas 10th Court of Appeals said in a ruling Wednesday that text messages between the accuser and friend should not have been excluded from the testimony in Sam Ukwuachu's 2015 trial in Waco. The court ordered that a new trial be held for the former standout defensive end for the Bears.

The accuser exchanged text messages with a friend before and after the offense. But the trial court two years ago allowed testimony based only on the texts that came afterward, in which the accuser told her friend that Ukwuachu raped her.

But Ukwuachu argued that the earlier texts showed the woman had consented to sex.

''In this case, the text messages were made immediately prior to the offense and appeared to potentially relate to prior occasions where the victim and Ukwuachu had engaged in some type of sexual conduct,'' justices determined in their ruling.

John Clune, the attorney for the woman, said Thursday in an email that the justices issued an ''unfortunate ruling'' that ultimately will be decided by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which is the highest criminal court in the state.

''The trial court ruled that these text messages had no bearing on consent and we remain optimistic that the higher court will agree,'' Clune said. ''Either way, the victim will continue to cooperate with the prosecution and see this case to its proper end.''

Ukwuachu was sentenced to six months in jail but ended up serving an abbreviated sentence.

Ukwuachu's lawyer, William Bratton III, said the former player had ''great confidence'' his conviction would be overturned.

''He needs a fairer run at this case than he had the first time,'' Bratton said.

In a statement released by Clune, the woman's father criticized the ruling.

''As the father of a child whose life has been so deeply impacted by this crime, I am disheartened to read this court's order,'' the father said. ''I believe yesterday's decision of the appeals court enables this subtle `victim blaming' to drive a false narrative, further harming someone who bravely stood up to a person to whom she never consented.''

The Associated Press is not identifying the father in order to protect the woman's identity. The AP generally doesn't identify sexual assault victims.

A spokeswoman for the McLennan County district attorney's office declined to comment.

Ukwuachu transferred from Boise State University in 2013 after being dismissed for unspecified reasons, but never played for Baylor. He was ineligible in 2013 and suspended in 2014.

Media coverage of his case and the 2014 sexual assault conviction of another former player, Tevin Elliott, led the school to hire Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton to investigate how the university and the football program handled reports of assault.

The university faces several lawsuits from women who say Baylor mishandled, ignored or suppressed their claims of assault for years, including several cases involving football players. The school also faces a federal civil rights investigation.

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Jim Vertuno in Austin contributed to this report.

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Follow David Warren on Twitter at https://twitter.com/WarrenJourno

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