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Opening Salvos Made in Vanderbilt Rape Trial

NASHVILLE (CN) - Prosecutors in the Vanderbilt University rape trial say evidence is clear to support convictions of two former student-athletes, while a defense attorney argues alcohol is to blame.

The two sides gave opening arguments Tuesday afternoon in a courtroom at the Justice A.A. Birch Building in downtown Nashville.

Brandon Vandenburg, 21, and Corey Batey, 20, are accused of committing an alleged on-campus rape of a Vanderbilt student in June 2013. Each is charged with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. Vandenburg also faces one count of unlawful photography.

The alleged rape occurred in Vandenburg's Gillette House dorm room in the early morning hours of June 23, 2013. Vandenburg and Batey, along with two others charged in the case, were kicked off the Vanderbilt Commodores football team after the allegations.

Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman began opening statements for the prosecution, describing the night in question. Thurman gave graphic detail of the alleged rape, mentioning video and photo evidence that the jury will see during the trial. When he accused Batey of calling the victim a racial slur during the alleged rape, the defense objected and the parties went back to Judge Monte Watkins' chamber.

After a brief recess, Thurman picked back up describing evidence against Vandenburg and Batey.

"After hearing all the proof, you'll be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that these two individuals are guilty," Thurman told the jury.

Worrick Robinson, who is defending Batey, took the podium after Thurman.

He said that Batey's blood alcohol level was almost four times the legal limit. Video evidence will show that Batey was "very inebriated," the attorney said.

"The testimony will show that Mr. Batey consumed so much alcohol that night that he had a blackout," Robinson told jurors. "He has no memory of what occurred."

After judging evidence and witness credibility, jurors won't be able to convict Batey "of what he did not do," Robinson said.

Vandenburg's attorney, Fletcher Long, came next.

"It's always an impressive moment in a trial when the government gets up and reads the indictment," Long said. "But it's really not a big achievement to get a grand jury indictment. It's like playing basketball against air. There's nobody out there playing defense. Well, today is the defense."

Brandon Banks and Jaborian 'Tip' McKenzie, both age 20, also face five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual assault stemming from the alleged rape. Their trial dates have not yet been set, but they are scheduled to testify in the Vandenburg and Batey trial.

Robinson and Long both attempted to discredit the two men, saying Banks and McKenzie are testifying for the state in exchange for a deal.

Long said Vandenburg was not a "principal actor" in the alleged rape, and said that evidence will show Banks committing an offense "all by his lonesome."

"It's Mr. Banks that should be made to bear responsibility for Mr. Banks, not Mr. Vandenburg," Long told the jury.

Long asked jurors to pay close attention to evidence and consider "whose telling you, why they're telling you, and what they gain."

"I am confident that you will see that Mr. Vandenburg was only responsible that night for Mr. Vandenburg and not for anyone else," Long said.

Long said Vandenburg had no criminal record before attending Vanderbilt.

Robinson said Batey faced a culture of alcohol and sexuality for the first time when he went to college.

"The culture [Batey] walked into was substantially different than what he had seen growing up and where he'd been to high school. It was a culture of sexual freedom, a culture of sexual experimentation. It was a culture that encouraged sexual promiscuity," Robinson said. "It was also a culture of alcohol."

Jury selection began Monday, Jan. 12 and ended by lunch break on Tuesday. The 14-person jury is made up of five men and nine women.

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