Rape trials for former Vols delayed to give defense time to pull social media, text records

A.J. Johnson, 23 (left) and Michael Williams, 21, are both charged with aggravated rape.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A judge has granted a motion to reset the trial for two former Vol football players charged with aggravated rape of a 19-year-old at the University of Tennessee.

The trial for Michael Williams was reset to September 29 and A.J. Johnson’s trial was reset to June 27. Both men have pleaded not guilty and both have maintained their innocence from the beginning.

Previous story: Former Vols football players accused of rape in court

Williams’ attorney Stephen Johnson made a request Monday for social media communications and text records from providers. Prosecutor Kyle Hixson with the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office questioned why the defense waited so late to file a motion for the records.

“This is an eleventh hour fishing expedition by the defense,” said Hixson. “They want the victim’s Twitter account. Why? Because she was wished a happy birthday?”

The defense said there was a lot of texting and social media activity before and after a party at The Woodlands Apartment Complex in South Knoxville where a 19-year-old woman reported being forcibly raped. He said they have made a request to the social media providers for the records.

“Text messaging and social media communications were going on at this party that night both before the party and during the party and after the events that are alleged took place in Mr. Johnson’s bedroom in his apartment,” said defense attorney Stephen Johnson.

The judge says social media is a record to be used in court and allowed the defense more time to get the records from providers of social media. A hearing was scheduled for September 17 to make sure the defense has all the material they are seeking.

WATE 6 On Your Side asked LMU law professor Sydney Beckman why texts and social media could be key for the defense.

“Depending on what was said by the individual students, it could be exonerating in some respects or not. They need to find out. They need all the information,” said Beckman.

Beckman says texts and social media communications offer more information than just a message.

“Associated with text messages is what they call metadata, and that data can talk about when it was sent, where it was sent, to whom it was sent and all of that to help authenticate it, and it can be crucial to a case,” said Beckman.

The state asked the service providers to preserve the texts and social media. Beckman says prosecutors only pull information relevant to make their case.

“It’s not really their job to figure out or decide what might exonerate. Prosecutor believes there’s guilt and their job is to show beyond a reasonable doubt that they are guilty,” said Beckman.

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