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Penn State player acquitted

Jury rules for Phillips in sexual assault case

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

By Dan Lewerenz, The Associated Press

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- Anwar Phillips is back on campus, acquitted by a jury of sexual assault charges. Whether he will return to the Penn State football team is still unknown.

A Centre County jury deliberated about three hours yesterday before returning innocent verdicts on charges of sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault. Each charge could have carried a possible 10-year prison sentence and $25,000 fine.

Phillips shook his head silently as the verdict was read, then wept in the courtroom with his mother, Sharon Phillips, who was up from Germantown, Md., for the trial. They refused to speak with reporters as they left the courthouse.

"Obviously, the family and everyone involved in this case is very, very pleased," defense attorney Tony DeBoef said. "The truth came out when he had his day in court."

District Attorney Ray Gricar said he was "very surprised and disappointed, especially for the victim. I thought it was a very solid case and I expected a guilty [verdict]."

In his closing argument yesterday morning, DeBoef said the woman Phillips was accused of assaulting consented to sex, but later regretted the decision, perhaps out of concern about pregnancy. An examination at the university health service showed no physical signs of an assault.

"Obviously, [the woman] is upset. There is no dispute about that," DeBoef said. "On behalf of the defendant I'm going to offer to you that she was upset after this happened -- not during, not prior to."

With conflicting stories from Phillips and his accuser about what happened the morning of Nov. 12, jurors said, prosecutors didn't do enough to prove the sex was not consensual.

"Every time she told him to stop, they ended up on the bed cuddling again," juror Louise Gingher said.

"She told him to stop, and then she kissed him," juror Tara Brown said.

Phillips was accused of forcing sex on the woman, an acquaintance, in her on-campus apartment. In December, he was expelled from the university for two semesters -- the summer session counts as a semester -- and Phillips is enrolled in fall classes.

Jeff Nelson, Penn State's associate athletic director for media relations, said Coach Joe Paterno did not have a comment on Phillips' status with the team. In previous news conferences, when he has been asked if Phillips has been practicing with the team, Paterno has refused to answer the question.

Paterno and university officials have been criticized for their handling of the case, particularly for allowing Phillips to play in the Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1. Phillips was expelled Dec. 12, but the expulsion didn't take effect until the spring semester started in mid-January.

In April, university president Graham B. Spanier said Phillips should not have played and changed university policy to require that Judicial Affairs inform the athletic director whenever disciplinary action is taken against an athlete.

Phillips, a defensive back, played in all 13 Penn State games as a redshirt freshman last year, earning his first of two starts just four days after the alleged assault. He had 20 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery.

Post-Gazette sports writer Ray Fittipaldo contributed to this report.

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