Grand jury clears former Louisville basketball player in rape case

By Steve Bittenbender

LOUISVILLE, Ky., April 29 (Reuters) - A Kentucky grand jury said on Wednesday it would not indict a former University of Louisville basketball player and two other men who were accused of raping and sodomizing two women at an off-campus apartment.

Chris Jones, a senior guard on the team, was arrested in February and accused by police along with Jalen Tilford and Tyvon Walker of forcing the women to engage in intercourse and other sex acts.

Jones was dismissed from the Louisville basketball team for violating curfew the night of the alleged incident. He withdrew from classes shortly after his arrest to focus on the case. Tilford and Walker were not students at the university.

Jefferson Circuit Judge Jim Shake announced the grand jury's decision to clear the men. Jeff Cooke, a spokesman for the Jefferson County commonwealth's attorney, said prosecutors respected the decision.

Dina Bartlett, an attorney representing the women, said she believed Jones' status as an athlete influenced the way the case was handled. Her clients were devastated and believed the men received special treatment, she said.

"They're not going to get justice," Bartlett said.

Tilford's lawyer, Scott Drabenstadt, rejected Barrett's assertion. Police were right to make arrests in February after receiving the complaints, and the process worked, he said.

"The evidence is pretty clear all three individuals are not rapists," Drabenstadt said. "Their actions were consensual sex with some females who - for whatever reason - later regretted it and decided to holler rape."

The case was initiated weeks after a Tennessee jury convicted two former Vanderbilt University football players of raping an unconscious student, a trial that brought heightened national scrutiny to the question of campus sexual assaults.

The University of Louisville said in a statement the school fulfilled its obligation to investigate allegations of sexual assault and that police handled the case as they would any other report of sexual assault involving a student.

The grand jury heard testimony for more than two days, including testimony from the suspects, and reviewed video evidence from that night.

(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender; Editing by David Bailey and Peter Cooney)

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