YORK — Julius Francis, a former Winthrop University mens basketball player accused of raping a 19-year-old woman in his on-campus apartment more than a year ago, wont serve any prison time after pleading guilty to lesser charges in court on Thursday.
Francis, once a center for the Winthrop Eagles who hails from Warri, Nigeria, pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and battery and disturbing schools while standing before 16th Circuit Court Judge Edward Miller.
He was sentenced to six months of probation, which allows him to continue his education at a Mississippi college and reclaim his passport. The rape allegation was the first criminal offense Francis was charged with in his six years as a U.S. student.
In April 2011, a 21-year-old Francis and his then-Withrop teammate, Robert Dreher, were arrested when a 19-year-old woman said the two athletes sexually assaulted her in the Courtyard apartments after she rebuffed their sexual advances.
Both players, enrolled at the university on scholarships, were charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct and held on a $20,000 bond each.
The cases against Francis and Dreher remained pending in court until July 26 when Dreher appeared before 16th Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles and pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and battery. He received one-year probation.
Prosecutors came across evidentiary issues that swayed them to reduce Drehers charge to a lesser offense that still contained elements of sexual misconduct, said Erin Joyner, the assistant solicitor who prosecuted the case.
On Thursday, Joyner told Judge Miller that the woman who accused Francis and Dreher of rape had in 2007 filed a police report that, if the case had gone to trial, would have placed her credibility in jeopardy.
After the hearing, Joyner declined to detail what the 2007 report was about out of respect for the victim, but she did say it was very relevant to her recent allegations and could have been used by a defense attorney during cross-examination.
She was not truthful with police about certain facts, she said.
Police reports show that around 6 a.m. April 17, 2011, a highly distraught crying woman went to Richardson Hall on campus, yelling that she had been molested and touched by a man.
When officers arrived, the woman refused to elaborate on what happened and began lashing out at police and her friends, claiming they were victimizing her again, according to police documents. She then left the campus.
The woman reconsidered her decision, Joyner said on Thursday, and took a sexual assault exam at Greenville Memorial Hospital. A hospital supervisor told Winthrop Police that the woman said she was raped while at the university.
During the investigation, the woman told police that while at Francis and Drehers Courtyard at Winthrop apartment, she and Dreher argued over his repeated sexual advances toward her.
The woman said Dreher led her to Francis room, where she claims she was restrained while both players engaged in sexual activity with her against her will. Police issued warrants for Dreher and Francis and on April 27, 2011, both players turned themselves into police and were arrested.
In August that year, Dreher, a sophomore business administration major at the time, and Francis, a freshman sociology major, were expelled from the university before classes began.
In court Thursday, Joyner said further investigation showed that there had been a party at the Courtyard apartments on April 17, 2011, and the woman, a former Winthrop student who moved to Greenville, had been drinking.
The woman and Dreher, Joyner said, soon began a heated argument about a comment the woman made about the basketball team.
Once accused of rape, Francis initially denied any sexual contact with the woman. He later made another statement saying they had consensual sex.
The prosecutions key witness, a student at the party, substantially changed and minimized the statements he gave to police when speaking with prosecutors months later, Joyner said.
After meeting with university and law enforcement officials, prosecutors and Francis defense attorney, Jim Morton of Morton & Gettys law firm, came to a resolution for disturbing schools and assault and battery, two charges that would still fit the facts of the case and were less serious, Joyner said.
He (Francis) did admit to an assault, Joyner said, adding that the definition of third-degree assault includes unlawfully offering or attempting to commit an unwanted touch.
Francis continues to deny the rape allegations, Morton said after the hearing. Francis declined to comment.
Julius is glad the sexual misconduct charges were dismissed and this matter resolved so he can continue his education and career, Morton said.
Francis, now 23, plays basketball at Mississippi Valley State University, where he majors in social work with hopes to open his own orphanage in Africa. He played post for the Mavericks, the mens basketball team for Northern Oklahoma College, last season.
Last month, reports circulated that Francis planned to sign with the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. Officials decided not to enroll Francis because the charges against him werent dropped in time, Morton said.
Hes a good kid, said Michele Wilson, a community volunteer whos been prayer partners with Francis for almost two years. There was no way I was turning my back on him.
Wilson, part of a prayer group that links Winthrop athletes with people willing to pray with them, said she often allowed Francis to spend time with her sons, 5 and 8, eat dinner with her family and join them for church.
He showed his face in church, Wilson said, adding that she would never have allowed Francis, a Christian, around her family if she believed the allegations.
Hes not a forceful person, she said. Hes a big teddy bear in that 7-foot body.
The victim, who did not attend Thursdays hearing, is anxious to put this behind her, Joyner said.
Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082