A high-profile, he said-she said rape trial is playing out in a Montana courtroom this week, with the alleged victim and the accused, a former star quarterback, facing off in court for the first time.
The identity of University of Montana student Jordan Johnson's accuser is being protected as the first witness called by the prosecution in a case that has bitterly divided the city of Missoula, Mont.
The woman, 21, has accused fellow student and former star quarterback Johnson of forcing her to have sex after she invited him to her room last February. Taking the stand Monday, she described how the two had flirted, even kissed a year before she bumped into Johnson again, and the two made a plan to meet up the next night.
"I just wanted to really get to know him," she told the court. "I didn't really hang out with him since a year prior. Just kind of get to know him again, see how school was going."
Johnson's accuser filed a report on the alleged rape six weeks later.
Johnson, 20, was charged last summer with having sexual intercourse without consent. He has pleaded not guilty. Johnson faces a sentence of anywhere from 2-to-4 years to 100 years, if convicted.
Johnson sat quietly in the courtroom as prosecutor Adam Duerk laid out the case against him in opening statements Monday before a full-day recess Tuesday.
"The nurse will tell you her findings were consistent with non-consensual sex," Duerk told the court.
It's unclear when she visited the nurse.
The prosecution argued that the alleged victim picked Johnson up from his home, drove him to her house, where things quickly got out of hand.
"He positioned himself on top of her. He changed, his demeanor changed," Duerk said. "He became more aggressive and, in her words, it got real scary, real fast."
But Johnson's attorney told jurors a different story, of a woman spurned.
"She encouraged him. She participated," defense attorney Kirsten Pabst told the court. "She continued. But the fact that he didn't give her a relationship does not make what happened that night a crime."
Johnson's accuser will be back on the stand today to detail exactly what she says happened that night. Then this jury of seven women and five men will hear what could be a bruising cross-examination by Johnson's attorney.
That a star athlete is on trial has garnered plenty of attention, but many people are watching the case closely because local and university officials have been accused of ignoring or minimizing dozens of rape allegations, leading to investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Education and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
University of Montana spokeswoman Peggy Kuhr said the school respects the court proceedings but will not comment on the Johnson trial. She pointed out that the university is focusing on responding quickly to all allegations, and looks to educate all students, creating a "welcoming and safe living environment."
"One of the things we've been doing as a university is responding quickly, even before Department of Justice notified us that investigations were being started," she said. "We've tried to encourage people to report, and to work with the city, and feel comfortable about who they can go to."
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