Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
The latest development in the Darrell Williams sexual assault case snuck under the national college hoops news radar Thursday afternoon, with word breaking that Williams filed a notice to appeal his recent sentence and conviction. In a long legal battle with numerous twists, turns and hot-button issues, including accusations of racial bias and prejudiced legislative procedures, Williams’ most recent defensive measure is only the tip of the iceberg. The story goes back to December 2010, when Williams, a member of the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team, was accused of fondling and making unsolicited sexual advances on two women at a house party. He was later convicted on two counts of rape and remained in jail until receiving a suspended sentence last week. The incident reportedly took place in the basement, but Williams claimed he has no recollection of any interactions in the specified room. He went on to question the merits of the allegations, and raised the possibility that he had been misidentified among several others at the party wearing OSU athletic apparel. The lack of physical evidence and the very real possibility of a false accusation invited skepticism and doubt over the validity of the women’s allegations. But the real rub surrounded the process by which Williams was identified. Immediately following the party, the women wrote an anonymous letter to various media outlets providing a brief description of the assault, but failed to specify an attacker. According to testimony, the women – one of whom already knew Williams from seeing him play – pointed Williams out three days after the alleged crime when Stillwater police showed them a photo of the entire OSU basketball team.
That pretty much wrapped things up. Williams was locked up on questionable testimony, with little in the way of actual hard evidence, and a tenuous if vague account of what actually happened. That was all the prosecution needed. The possibility remains that Williams will win his appeal and clear his name, but clinging to hopes that a typically rigid legal system will provide vindication is a foreboding proposition. Williams has maintained his innocence throughout the process, but barring a successful ruling on his requisition, he will have to register as a sex offender. A coalition of fans and media members have rallied around Williams’ cause, springing a Facebook group and donning “Free Darrell 25” (a reference to his number at OSU) t-shirts at Friday’s hearing. This would not be the first time the legal process committed an egregious misstep. False accusations — whether through error or vendetta — happen all the time, and there are plenty more that are never brought to light. It is difficult to say whether miscalculated courtroom procedure is at work here, or if Williams was simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. When you pack 80 people into a house party, with many large athletes crammed into the same suffocated space, parsing the truth from the specious – particularly if alcohol is involved, which is a reasonable assumption at collegiate social gatherings like this – is never easy.