We’ve heard a lot about sexual assault this week, with the sentencing of Bill Cosby and Thursday’s hearing on Capitol Hill where we heard from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser.
The cases were on the mind of Charlotte defense attorney George Laughrun in Mecklenburg County Superior Court Thursday when objecting to a witness's answer in the rape trial of former UNC Charlotte football player Kevin Olsen.
"Bill Cosby gets convicted because five other ladies come forward. You got the Kavanaugh hearings going on right now with other people coming out of the woodwork like roaches saying, 'Okay, here’s what’s going on," said Laughrun.
WFAE’s Sarah Delia has been in court all week covering the trial. She discussed the case with "Morning Edition" host Marshall Terry.
Marshall Terry: This is somewhat of a high-profile case because Kevin Olsen is the younger brother of Panther’s player Greg Olsen. But I know this case stands out for other reasons as well...
Sarah Delia: It does, Marshall. Yes, during our yearlong investigation on WFAE’s podcast "She Says," we followed the journey of a sexual assault survivor we called Linda as she navigated the winding road of the criminal justice system. Part of that series was examining her relationship with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, training available to police, and detective work she had to do to solve her own case.
Although Linda’s case is currently with the Mecklenburg District Attorney’s office, she hasn’t gone through the legal side of the system with a trial or a plea deal. So this was an opportunity to learn more about the ins-and-outs as to how a rape or sexual assault case is tried.
Terry: Give us a quick synopsis as to what Olsen’s former girlfriend alleges in this case.
Delia: She says that in February 2017 after a night of drinking with Olsen and friends, the group went back to Olsen’s home that he shared with several other UNC-Charlotte football players. She says Olsen had a breakdown of sorts and attempted suicide that night by trying to hang an iphone cable charger across a shower bar. Olsen’s accuser said he was complaining about his life in Charlotte and the pressure he felt with having an NFL football player as a brother. She says she tried to calm him down and things settled down for a moment, but then something set him off. She thinks it was her phone going off with a text message and then, she alleges, he began to punch her. She says he stopped. His demeanor changed, and he said he wanted to have sex. She says she didn’t want to and was crying, but she wasn’t able to verbally say no or physically fight him. That’s when she alleges that the rape occurred. Eventually, she says, Olsen fell asleep and she ran into one of his roommate’s bedrooms, Mitchell Monska's, where he and a woman named Ivey, his then girlfriend now fiancé, were sleeping. She said she told them that Olsen had tried to commit suicide and Monska has testified that she did come into his room crying with an injury to her eye saying Olsen was suicidal.
Terry: You’ve been in court every day this week and have been able to record the trial but we’re not hearing from Olsen’s accuser his former girlfriend, why is that?
Delia: Well, every courthouse has a different set of rules when it comes to recording, in Mecklenburg County, as a reporter I have to ask permission from a judge every time I’d like to record in a courtroom and he or she can say yes or no for any reason. In this case, Superior Court Judge Karen Eady-Williams is allowing media to record but there are some stipulations. If we use the woman’s voice, we have to alter it. The TV camera pans away when she testifies. No photographs are to be taken of the jurors or Olsen’s former girlfriend. There are even rules as to where I can put my recorders. For privacy reasons, we also aren’t going to name Olsen’s former girlfriend. You may not hear her voice, but we are sharing parts of her testimony.
Terry: This first week started with the prosecution calling the witnesses. Who did they call to the stand?
Delia: Assistant District Attorneys Kristin Northup and Jane Honeycutt called 7 witnesses to the stand, Olsen’s accuser being the first. Witnesses also included friends who were out that night, a CMPD crime lab technician, a DNA analyst who examined the sexual results from the sexual assault exam, and a SANE nurse—that stands for sexual assault nurse examiner - who saw Olsen’s former girlfriend the night she went to the hospital. A key part of the prosecution’s case is that even though Olsen’s accuser wasn’t able to verbally say no to the alleged sexual encounter, it doesn’t mean it was a consensual sex. In her opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Jane Honeycutt said the woman was frozen and scared. She didn’t fight off Olsen or tell him no, because she couldn’t.
Honeycutt: She didn’t know what to call what had just happened to her, what the defendant had done to her, but she knew it was not ok.
Terry: What evidence has been shown this week?
Delia: We’ve seen photos of Olsen’s former girlfriend which show injuries she says she got from Olsen. Pictures of a dark bruise under her eye and bruises on her arms. Lots of text exchanges from friends. One in particular is one that she wrote to a friend that says “he is not a rapist.” The prosecution says that’s because she didn’t know what happened was considered rape since they were in a consensual relationship. Olsen’s accuser communicated through texts and was "processing," that’s what the district attorney’s office said. The prosecution argues that the context around this text in particular is significant.
Honeycutt: The context of the conversation she was having at the time is important and the context of what she was going through in her life at that time is important.
Delia: Of course, the defense sees it differently.
Laughrun: On February 20, 2017 less than a day after Mr. Olsen was arrest, texted her best friend Alidia Hannon and said “he is not a rapist.”
Delia: There have been some really emotional points of testimony. Yesterday, we heard from Hayley Reynolds, the accuser’s former roommate and good friend who was actually with her when she went to the hospital to get a sexual assault exam. Some of the exchanges between the defense and Olsen’s former girlfriend have been really argumentative. In particular, there's an exchange between the accuser where she said she was trying to help Olsen.
Laughrun: You could have just walked away. Couldn’t you?
Accuser: I loved him.
Laughrun: You told us that 3 or 4 times, so by him going to prison...
Northrup: Objection, your honor, argumentative.
Laughrun: So by him going to prison you’re going to help him correct?
Terry: Any sense of how much longer the trial will go on?
Delia: The state did rest its case yesterday in the morning. The witness list was at one point 43 people long, but that doesn’t mean that all of those people will be called. The defense did begin calling witnesses to the stand yesterday which included another former roommate of Olsen’s and the CMPD detective who investigated the case. As of yesterday, Kevin Olsen has not testified. And we’ll be bringing more information as the defense continues to make their case.
This interview has been edited for clarity.