The ND rape case that wasn't
Student cleared of felony charge, but still leaves school
SOUTH BEND - Two years ago, a University of Notre Dame junior was arrested on campus and charged with felony rape.
The 20-year-old man was accused of having non-consensual sex with an intoxicated female student in his dorm room six months earlier.
But two weeks before trial, prosecutors dismissed the charge after new evidence emerged showing the man had a “reasonable belief” that the sex was, in fact, consensual. The accuser had no recollection of the encounter, and could not dispute the evidence.
The case, said St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak, is a “textbook” example of an alleged rape case when one party is so intoxicated he or she has no memory of it.
The male student faced “tremendous consequences” to his reputation and status at Notre Dame, the prosecutor said. He is now enrolled at a different university. The woman, meanwhile, graduated last December.
“I think if you talked to (the woman) today, she would still say she doesn’t remember it,” Dvorak said. “The young woman believed she was raped, whether she still believes she was raped, I don’t know.”
The Tribune typically doesn’t name accusers in sex crime cases, and is not naming the accused man because the charges against him were dismissed and the case was permanently deleted from his record.
Neither party responded to Tribune requests for comment.
On Feb. 23, 2009, the rector of Knott Hall, a men’s residence hall, found a woman wearing only a T-shirt sleeping on his living room floor at 4 a.m. The woman had no recollection of where she was, how she had gotten there or why she ended up wearing only a T-shirt. The shirt had the name of the male student on it.
When police questioned the male student, he said they had “hooked up” and had sex.
But the woman, who police said had a blood-alcohol level of 0.13 percent, told police she didn’t remember much about the evening, only that she had been drinking in a dorm room and at an off-campus “swim house” party, according to court documents.
When police asked if she remembered having sex with the male student, she said she would never have consented to have sex with him and they were only acquaintances, according to court documents.
Six months later, on Aug. 19, the suspect was formally charged with felony rape, and was arrested on campus Aug. 20. Prosecutors alleged he had sex with the woman when she was incapable of consenting.
If convicted, he would face between 20 and 50 years in prison.
He remained silent as the investigation continued, declining to talk to investigators as they prepared for trial, Dvorak said.
“Our job is always to do justice,” Dvorak said. “We went forward with the evidence we thought was sufficient to convict beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Then, in April 2010, two weeks before trial, the man changed his mind.
He gave a statement to prosecutors, and the case took an abrupt turn.