MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Jurors deliberated for less than three hours before acquitting a former University of Montana quarterback in a rape trial that has played out amid NCAA and federal investigations into how the city and school respond to rape allegations on campus.
Jordan Johnson and his attorney David Paoli both cried after the verdict was announced Friday, and cheers erupted from the area where the defendant's family was sitting in the packed courtroom.
The accusations against Johnson, 20, have drawn much attention in Montana, where UM football is the top sports attraction. Johnson led the school to a successful 2011 season as starting quarterback before being accused of assaulting a woman while watching a movie with her at her home last year.
His case has unfolded against a backdrop of NCAA and federal investigations of the university's athletic department and the manner in which rape allegations are handled on campus, investigated by police and prosecuted by the Missoula County attorney's office.
The situation left some worried that the highly successful football team was out of control off the field.
In closing statements Friday, Assistant Attorney General Joel Thompson told jurors that the accuser "has had to crawl through a proverbial tunnel of sewage" to see the case through to trial because she wanted accountability, the Missoulian reported. He alleged Johnson maliciously assaulted his client, resulting in psychological damage.
The female student testified that she and Johnson were kissing at her home last February when his demeanor changed and he held her down and raped her, despite her protests.
Witnesses testified that she was pale and shaking, and that she cried uncontrollably after driving Johnson back to his house.
But Johnson told jurors the sex was consensual and that the woman enjoyed it. He testified that she asked him if he had a condom and when he said he didn't, she told him that was OK. He said she never said "no," and he would have stopped if she had.
The defense argued the woman became upset and sought vengeance after Johnson got up without any cuddling and didn't talk to her other than to say, "Well, thanks," when she dropped him off at his house.
After the verdict was read, Johnson hugged his attorneys and then his large group of supporters in the courtroom.
Asked for comment, Paoli said: "Feel wonderful. Very happy."
Those in attendance Friday included Montana football players, coach Mick Delaney and former athletic director Jim O'Day.
Johnson, who is from the Eugene, Ore., area, was briefly suspended from the football team when the allegations surfaced. He was then kicked off the team under the school's student-athlete conduct code, after the felony charge of sexual intercourse without consent was filed against him in July. He has remained in school.
UM athletic director Kent Haslam said Friday student-athletes can appeal their suspension if there is a change in the circumstances that led to it. Johnson's acquittal would qualify as such a change. Haslam said he has not talked with Johnson about whether he would appeal.