PROVO A state grand jury has indicted four former Brigham Young University football players on allegations of gang rape, capping an especially embarrassing year for a football program long considered a missionary tool for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The grand jury convened in American Fork on Thursday, the day after BYU head coach Gary Crowton tendered his resignation under pressure. Crowton's final year was marred by a losing season on the field and a spate of problems off it. Over the past year, 14 players have been disciplined for Honor Code violations.
Those indiscretions which ranged from assault and robbery to alleged group sex in January badly sullied the reputation of a school once called "a showcase for Mormonism" by a church leader.
But nothing was as damaging as Friday's bombshell announcement that six freshmen players or former players will face a total of 18 felony charges in connection with the alleged rape of a 17-year-old girl in August. Not since 1985, when news surfaced that team doctors were illegally giving players prescription drugs, has the school suffered such public embarrassment.
"This does dredge up some wounds from the past," said associate athletic director Tom Holmoe. "We're going in a new direction with the program. The new head coach we hire will be able to effect change in a lot of ways. It's a new start, and that's one of the reasons we made a change."
B.J. Mathis, Karland Bennett, William Turner Jr. and Ibrahim Rashada are charged with four felonies each two counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault and one count each of obstruction of justice and dealing in material harmful to a minor.
Provo police launched an investigation after the girl reported that she went to the off-campus apartment of Bennett and Mathis on Aug. 8, watched pornography with a group of players, drank vodka with them and then, after passing out or falling asleep, woke up while being raped by three or four players.
In the case of each player, one sexual assault charge alleges they committed bodily harm during the course of a rape or attempted rape. The second sexual assault charge is for allegedly causing bodily harm during forcible or attempted forcible sodomy.
Two other football players also face criminal charges wide receiver Antwaun Harris, who is alleged to have made a false statement to investigators, a second-degree felony, and defensive back Billy Skinner for allegedly dealing in material harmful to a minor, a third-degree felony. Both players lived on the same floor as Mathis and Bennett at the University Villa apartments.
Bennett, Rashada and Skinner are defensive backs. Turner was listed at linebacker, and Harris is a wide receiver.
Harris was the only one of the six to play for BYU this season. Crowton effectively suspended the other five when he announced just before the season's first game that they would redshirt, or sit out the season.
Harris caught 17 passes for 149 yards. He also gained eight yards on two running plays and returned four kicks for 65 yards.
The news came as a shock to Bennett's mother, who learned Friday afternoon from the Deseret Morning News that police in Texas were looking for her son.
"I haven't heard anything," she said. "They haven't called us. I don't believe it's against my child."
She said her son has never told her his side of the story.
Mathis did not return a message left on his cell phone. Other players could not be reached for comment.
Don Harwell, president of the support group for black Mormons called Genesis, was also surprised when he heard the news. Harwell has talked to several of the players and their families since the allegations surfaced.
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