The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has reversed a lower court’s decision and reinstated former Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu’s 2015 sexual assault conviction for a second time, according to a ruling released Wednesday.
Ukwuachu’s attorney has been appealing his conviction on a number of issues that have, one by one, gone through the Waco 10th Court of Appeals, which has ruled in favor of Ukwuachu twice. But McLennan County prosecutors have appealed those rulings to the state’s higher criminal court and won.
Ukwuachu now returns to being a convicted sex offender.
Wednesday’s ruling involved cellphone records from Ukwuachu’s roommate. Judges in 2019 determined prosecutors improperly used the records in the 2015 trial. Last year, the Waco 10th Court of Appeals stated that prosecutors’ claims that cellphone records showed Ukwuachu’s roommate was not at the apartment, as he claimed, when the alleged incident occurred gave the jury a “false impression.” The records had not been entered into evidence, and there were issues with determining the accuracy of the time and location where the calls were made, the 2019 ruling states.
In its 9-0 unanimous decision Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stated that because the phone records were never admitted into evidence and there was no expert testimony to cast doubt on the validity of the records, then Ukwuachu can’t prove that prosecutors “actually elicited witness testimony that conflicted with the substance of those records.” Ukwuachu, therefore, failed to show “falsity that must underlie any false-evidence due process claim,” the ruling states.
The ruling later notes: “He points to no specific testimony from any witness that actually left the jury with a false impression.”
Ukwuachu’s attorney, William A. Bratton, told ESPN on Wednesday that he would continue to appeal the case and possibly ask for a rehearing from the higher court. Bratton said he would even consider trying to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court on the basis of “using the impression of false evidence to convict someone.”
In his initial appeal to the 10th Court of Appeals, Bratton had argued six issues; three now remain outstanding.
If the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had upheld the July 2019 decision by the 10th Court of Appeals, it would have sent the case back to McLennan County prosecutors to decide whether to retry the case. In overturning the decision again, it sends the remaining issues back to the lower court.
Wednesday’s ruling is the latest in a case that has bounced back and forth for years. In March 2017, the Waco 10th Court of Appeals overturned Ukwuachu’s conviction based on some text messages that judges determined should have been allowed into evidence. But in June 2018, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals voted 9-0 to reinstate Ukwuachu’s conviction by overturning the lower court’s ruling, writing that the exclusion of the messages was “harmless” to Ukwuachu’s case.
Ukwuachu’s conviction in August 2015 of having sexually assaulted a female Baylor soccer player was, in many ways, the starting point for the series of public revelations about sexual violence at Baylor University.
The former defensive end had been sentenced to 180 days in jail, 10 years’ felony probation and 400 hours of community service, and he had to register as a sex offender.
During the 2015 criminal trial, the former soccer player alleged Ukwuachu had taken her to his apartment, where she tried to resist his advances multiple times before he succeeded in forcing her on her stomach, pushing her head up against a wall and raping her from behind. Ukwuachu said during the trial that he and the woman had consensual sex that evening with him on top and them lying face-to-face on his bed, and that he never forced himself on her.
The woman, who lost her soccer scholarship at Baylor in the wake of the reported assault, reached a financial settlement with the school in December 2015 and transferred to another university.
Ukwuachu’s criminal conviction, which came after a university investigation had cleared him of any wrongdoing, garnered intense media attention and public scrutiny, and it prompted Baylor to conduct an internal review of its Title IX practices as more women came forward with reports of assaults by athletes.
In May 2016, the school fired football coach Art Briles and demoted former president Kenneth Starr, who would later resign, as would suspended athletic director Ian McCaw.