- On Friday morning, three jurors believed Kendall Sanders was guilty of sexual assault and two were unsure. Ultimately, all five flipped for a verdict of not guilty.
- Sanders said he would "love to go back to UT," and that he has also been contacted by Houston to play football.
- Asked what happened with his accuser, Sanders said, "It wasn't rape. It was casual sex."
A jury that had appeared headed for an impasse instead reached a consensus and acquitted former Texas Longhorn football player Kendall Sanders of sexual assault on Friday.
Sanders, who was facing up to 20 years in prison for the second-degree felony, hugged his attorney, Brian Roark, as members of Sanders’ family burst into tears in the courtroom gallery.
“I don’t wish this upon anybody,” Sanders told the American-Statesman. “You know deep down in your heart you’re innocent, but everybody’s bashing you and you hear all these bad things about you.”
A jury of eight men and four women deliberated for nearly 4½ hours over two days. According to two members, discussions opened Friday morning with three members still believing Sanders was guilty and two unsure. Among the five holdouts was Jeff Bagley, who told the Statesman that insufficient evidence stood as a roadblock to finding Sanders guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Not guilty was the right verdict,” Bagley said. “I do think there was a general consensus, or at least from quite a few jurors, that the rape did occur even if there wasn’t enough evidence. We kind of got stuck there.”
Bagley added “it was very close” to being a hung jury, which would’ve resulted in a mistrial.
“We’re disappointed in the verdict,” prosecutor Andrea Austin said. “We believed the woman.”
Juror Mitchell Herd, who was undecided to begin the day, said the jury was convinced Sanders had sex with a UT female student on the morning of June 21, 2014, but that it was unclear if the woman had given her consent. In her initial statements to police, the woman said Sanders had quit having sex with her when she commanded him to stop. Yet during her testimony at trial, the woman changed course and said Sanders told her she could leave when he was finished with the act. That was among 37 inconsistencies the defense detailed during closing arguments.
“There was no other decision to be made,” Herd said. “That was the absolute right decision to be made. We’re not happy because we know he’s not innocent; he did take advantage of a very drunk girl in a dorm room in the middle of the night. We know that morally he did something very wrong; we all agree on that. But lawfully we couldn’t convict him.”
Focus now shifts to Sanders’ bid for redemption. He will now explore options to continue his college football career after he was dismissed by UT because of the assault charge. He said he has been approached about playing football at Houston, where Sanders could reunite with Cougars assistant coach Major Applewhite, who coached Sanders at UT. Sanders, who is assured of one year of eligibility wherever he goes, said he’ll petition the NCAA for a second year.
He did not rule out returning to UT, saying, “I don’t blame coach (Charlie) Strong. He did everything he could.”
“I would love to go back to UT.”
UT declined to comment about Sanders’ acquittal.
Sanders, who did not testify at trial, was asked for his version of what happened when a woman claimed Sanders assaulted her vaginally, anally and orally.
“It wasn’t rape,” he said. “It was consensual sex.”
Austin, the prosecutor, said she planned to review the Sanders trial before deciding whether the state will proceed to trial against Montrel Meander, another former UT football player who was charged in the same incident that involved Sanders. Austin said the state’s case against Meander was weaker than the one against Sanders, presumably because the woman admitted to having consensual sex with Meander and because she did not initially identify Meander as her attacker.
Roark said he believes Meander’s case should be dropped.
“If they couldn’t prove that Mr. Sanders had done anything, it would be extraordinarily difficult to prove Mr. Meander did,” said Roark, who is not representing Meander.