A judge Friday sentenced former Vanderbilt University football player Cory Batey to 15 years in prison, but said the man’s true punishment for raping an unconscious woman three years ago was a life sentence.
“It is one of the saddest cases that I have ever encountered,” Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins said. “And I’ve been in the legal business for 32 years.”
The judge said he’s seen many cases involving young people who made bad decisions and had to weigh how his punishment would impact the victim, the defendant and their families.
“All of the defendants in this case basically have life sentences,” Watkins said. “After they get out of jail or prison they will be on the sex-offender registry for the rest of their lives. That’s a life sentence in and of itself.”
The prison term Watkins handed down was the minimum allowed by law. Batey, 22, must serve all 15 years.
The ruling came at the end of a 90-minute hearing in which the rape victim gave an emotional statement about her own life sentence. She spoke from a podium, reading her statement, pausing to cry and looking up at the judge.
“In this age of technology, anyone I ever meet in my personal or professional life can learn I am a rape victim and the details of the case before I’ve even fully introduced myself to them,” she said, citing media coverage.
The woman was 21 and unconscious when police say four men raped her on the floor of a university dorm on June 23, 2013.
“The thought of sharing any more of myself that hasn’t already been taken from me seems unbearable, and it goes against every instinct that I have,” she said.
The woman does not remember the rape. The Tennessean generally does not name victims of sexual assault.
Metro Nashville police told her what happened as they uncovered evidence in their investigation, including graphic photographs and videos of the rape. Those videos were both the key evidence and a unique piece of evidence that drew additional attention to the case that some said furthered discussion of how colleges respond to sexual assault.
“Something permanent snapped that day,” the woman said of seeing the pictures. “I felt myself detach from my body. Now, I feel like I’m walking around in the shell of someone else. A part of me went numb, a sense of being a whole person with hopes and dreams about what’s possible in the world was now gone. I felt my belief that people are inherently good twist into some cruel joke in an instant.
“But sexual assault was not where the attack ended,” she said. Her sobs intensified as the described what else the men did to her.
“Mr. Batey continued to abuse and degrade me, urinating on my face while uttering horrific racial hate speech that suggested I deserved what he was doing to me because of the color of my skin. He didn’t even know who I was.”
In prior court hearings, prosecutors have acknowledged a racial statement was made but it was never said publicly in court.
On Friday, multiple sources confirmed to The Tennessean the statement Batey made. “That’s for 400 years of slavery you bitch,” Batey said, according to the sources.
The woman left the courtroom when the judge gave Batey a chance to speak. His wrists were in cuffs and he wore an orange jail uniform. He has been in custody since a jury in April found him guilty of aggravated rape and other counts.
He apologized to his mother and other supporters and to Vanderbilt, the school that gave him a scholarship and the institution his actions put in a bad light.
Three other former football players were charged in the case. Brandon E. Banks and Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. A jury found Brandon Vandenburg, 23, guilty on all eight counts against him after a separate trial in June. His sentencing is set for Sept. 30.
“I hope that if not today maybe one day you would find it in your heart to forgive me for any damages I may have caused,” Batey said in court, calling the rape an “unintentional tragedy.”
Two pastors spoke on Batey’s behalf, saying he was a church-going man capable of rehabilitation. Batey’s mother also spoke.
A tear slid down Batey’s cheek when she took the stand.
Audrey Batey attended her son’s trial in January 2015, a 12-day proceeding that was later nullified when the judge declared a mistrial because of an issue with a juror. Batey was tried again in April, and his mother was there each day. She worked at Vanderbilt for more than 30 years, according to prior testimony.
“I couldn’t believe it was my son,” she said of first learning about the charges against her son. “I really couldn’t… Because I know how he care about people and I know that wasn’t Cory.”
She said the rape was “real out of character for Cory.”
Batey’s lawyer, Worrick Robinson, asked if Audrey Batey would like to meet the victim and what she would tell her.
“That I’m sorry,” Audrey Batey said. “It wasn’t my son, and will you forgive us.”
Robinson said after the hearing that he was confident Batey would be released from prison and be a productive member of society. He said he may seek a placement in the Department of Correction that keeps Batey in Middle Tennessee, allowing Batey to see his family and son who was conceived and born while this case was pending.
Prosecutors and the victim had asked the judge for the maximum sentence possible of 25 years. The woman did not comment on the sentence of 15 years. Deputy District Attorney General Tom Thurman’s 39-year tenure in the office ended Friday with his retirement.
“We’re obviously extremely disappointed on behalf of the victim who is a survivor in the case and I thought gave a sincere statement today to the court about how this is going to affect her for the rest of her life,” Thurman said.
Story by The Tennessean.