Prosecutor says Franklin reached out to alleged rape victim

James Franklin, who took over as Penn State football coach in January, denies wrongdoing in the case of an alleged rape last year, while he coached at Vanderbilt. Four former Vanderbilt players face charges.
James Franklin, who took over as Penn State football coach in January, denies wrongdoing in the case of an alleged rape last year, while he coached at Vanderbilt. Four former Vanderbilt players face charges. (MATTHEW O'HAREN / USA Today)
Posted: May 02, 2014

James Franklin talked to an alleged rape victim in the days after the Vanderbilt undergraduate student reported the incident, confirms the deputy district attorney who is prosecuting four former football players charged with the crime last year.

"He did," Tom Thurman said Wednesday in a telephone interview, referring to Franklin, now Penn State's football coach. "I think he and his wife called and said they were praying for her and thinking about her.

"It was probably a pretty nice thing to do," Thurman said, "and it gets thrown up like this."

Thurman was referring to the defense lawyers' court filing this week suggesting there was something wrong with the contact between Franklin, then Vanderbilt's head coach, and the alleged victim.

"Obviously, it wasn't for any purpose of covering up or anything like that," Thurman said. "It was showing support, which was a nice thing to do. That's the only contact I know about."

Thurman said it was his understanding that Franklin had known the woman.

"I think she worked at the [Vanderbilt] football office part-time," Thurman said. "I think she was on the dance team. It wasn't really that relevant to us."

Franklin, 42, was hired as Penn State's coach in January, after three seasons as head coach at Vanderbilt.

"The allegations that I did something wrong are simply not true," Franklin said Tuesday in a statement released by Penn State. "I have cooperated fully with the authorities in this matter, but out of respect for the legal process I am not able to comment any further."

Four Vanderbilt football players were charged in August with raping and sexually battering a 21-year-old female Vanderbilt student on June 23. A fifth pleaded guilty to trying to cover up the incident. All five were subsequently dismissed from the football program. An Aug. 11 trial date has been set for two of the defendants.

According to a story in the Tennessean, lawyers for one of the former players filed what the newspaper termed "a scorched-earth motion" Tuesday, asking a judge to dismiss the case or reprimand prosecutors for destroying or failing to preserve evidence. The lawyers claimed that evidence provided through discovery included disks with empty file folders and video surveillance in which 55 percent of what was filmed on 14 campus cameras had been deleted.

In a telephone interview with The Inquirer in January, Thurman said he had found no evidence that Franklin "was involved in any way whatsoever in covering it up or anything like that. He's been up-front with us at all times. There's no indication of his involvement as far as doing anything improper."

Tuesday's court filing claimed that at a date that was unclear, apparently before the alleged rape, Franklin had another meeting with the alleged victim, the Tennessean reported.

"Coach Franklin called her in for a private meeting and told her he wanted her to get 15 pretty girls together and form a team to assist with the recruiting even though he knew it was against the rules," according to the filing. "He added that all the other colleges did it."

"I don't even know if that's illegal," Thurman said Wednesday, referring to NCAA rules. "I think several SEC programs have hostess-type programs. I know UT [Tennessee] got in trouble having them go out of state" to a high school football game.

As for the defense's contention that Franklin's cellphone records had been lost, Thurman said, "I don't think we've got Coach Franklin's cellphone. We didn't have any legal right to get their cellphones.

"There's no evidence of a cover-up," he said. "We didn't go out and get everybody's cellphone who was on the Vanderbilt campus."


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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