James Franklin talked to a Vanderbilt undergraduate student who was the victim of an alleged rape in the days after she reported the incident, said Tom Thurman, deputy district attorney in Nashville, the man who is prosecuting the former Vanderbilt football players charged with the crime last year.
“He did,” 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, and it gets thrown up like this.”
What he meant, Thurman said, was that an attorney for one of the defendants suggested in a court filing this week that 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 night 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 report in the Tennessean, attorneys 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 attorneys 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 Philadelphia 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.”
According to a report Tuesday in the Tennessean, the court filing claimed that at a date that was unclear, apparently before the alleged rape, Franklin had another meeting with the alleged victim.
“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 a portion of the filing that suggested 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. We didn’t go out and get everybody’s cellphone who was on the Vanderbilt campus.”