Crime & Courts

Jury begins deliberations in Kevin Olsen rape case with dueling accounts to sift through

Kevin Olsen’s future now rests in the hands of his jury, nine men and three women who began deliberating Monday afternoon on whether the former UNC Charlotte quarterback raped the woman he said he one day hoped to marry.

If convicted, Olsen, 23, faces decades in prison. He is accused of beating his girlfriend in the bedroom of his off-campus home on the morning of Feb. 19, 2017, then raping her three times. He was arrested later that day.

Superior Court Judge Karen Eady-Williams turned the case over to the jury at around 2 p.m. To convict, the verdict must be unanimous.

During their last morning in the courtroom, lawyers on both sides gave the jurors plenty to consider. In dueling and dramatic hour-long closing statements, prosecutor Kristen Northrup and defense attorney George Laughrun gave final thoughts on Olsen’s guilt or innocence, the quality of the police investigation, the motives and actions of the accuser, and what the evidence showed.

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Defense attorney George Laughrun, left, speaks to the jury about his client Kevin Olsen, right, during his closing argument on Monday. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

With the 25-year-old accuser seated 30 feet away, Laughrun described his client’s former girlfriend as cloying and angry. He said she was desperate to keep Olsen as a boyfriend but turned revengeful as their relationship frayed.

Following a strategy he used throughout the trial, Laughrun pointed to the woman’s text messages in an effort to undermine her allegations.

In one text sent to a friend shortly after the assault was to have occurred, she said Olsen “is not a rapist.”

In another she castigated Charlotte-Mecklenburg police for treating the case like a rape “when they know I was iffy.”

In a third, Laughrun said the woman wrote of Olsen, “I’m going to ruin his life.”

“Congratulations, you did,” Laughrun said as the woman looked on, shaking her head at some of Laughrun’s comments.

He continued. “(The accuser) is not on trial here. Her statements and credibility are.”

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Assistant District Attorney Kristen Northrup presents her closing argument to the jury in the trial of Kevin Olsen. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The two-week trial was set against a convergence of related national events, from the roiling debate over campus sexual assaults to the #metoo movement and the explosive sexual misconduct allegations lodged against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, which played out in front of a nationwide audience last week.

Prosecutor Kristen Northrup countered with a fiery recap of the evidence, evidence that, she argued, corroborated the accuser’s account and proved Olsen’s guilt. Near the end of her remarks, she posted photographs on the courtroom monitors showing the bruising on the accuser’s arms and back, and her badly blackened left eye.

(The Observer does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault and Eady-Williams banned media from using her image or actual voice in its reporting on the trial.)

Northrup told jurors that the brain hides details and specific memories from victims of trauma until they’re strong enough to handle them. That, Northrup said, explained the inconsistencies in some of the details Olsen’s accuser shared with friends, nurses, police and UNCC investigators.

The core of her testimony, Northrup argued, remained consistent throughout — that her rape had followed a Saturday night uptown of heavy drinking and escalating tensions with Olsen, the brother of Carolina Panthers star Greg Olsen

“I dare you to leave me,” Olsen had texted his girlfriend when they became separated at the EpiCentre several hours before the alleged assault, Northrup told the jury.

“I’ll kill ur b---- ass.”

Back at the University City home Olsen shared with other UNCC football players, the quarterback became despondent and tried to kill himself with the chord of a cellphone charger, Northrup said. He became angry again, according to the prosecutor, after seizing his girlfriend’s phone and reading her texts, beating her in bed first with a pillow and then with his fists.

Later, as she sat on top of him sobbing and holding her injured eye, Olsen told her that he couldn’t have sex with her unless she stopped “f------ crying,” Northrup said.

On the witness stand last week, the accuser said she never fought back, never tried to escape, never told Olsen “no.” Under the law, Northrup said, she didn’t have to.

“Fear,” she told the jurors, “is ... a powerful thing. Fear caused her body to stop moving. Fear caused her to be on top of the defendant while he raped her, holding her eye, holding her hurt body. That same fear prevented her from saying no, from telling him to stop ... And she didn’t have to, because she was scared.”

Carrying a handful of index cards that she used as notes, Northrup homed in on the accuser’s early reluctance to say she had been raped.

“She knew something very bad had happened to her, but she did not know what to call it,” the prosecutor said. “Who wants to admit that the person they trusted with their life, their body, with their heart would do something like this?”

She shot a prolonged glance in Olsen’s direction. “(The accuser) did nothing wrong,” she said.

Earlier in the morning, Laughrun asked the jury members — six black, six white — to consider otherwise. He said neither the accuser nor the prosecutors had succeeded in proving Olsen’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The longtime defender of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers also attacked the quality of the CMPD investigation that preceded Olsen’s arrest.

Under cross-examination last week, the lead detective in the case said police had never entered Olsen’s home or searched his bedroom because they weren’t necessary for the investigation. Laughrun, though, described police actions as “inept” and part of an improper “rush to judgment.”

“They already had their minds made up,” he said. “They got him. They got the football player.”

He asked for the jurors’ help. “Stop it right there,” he said. “This rush to judgment has to go through you. Put a stop to it.”

Much of Laughrun’s closing was aimed at the accuser, who had been dating Olsen for about a year when the alleged rape occurred.

According to Laughrun, the woman changed enough of the details in her accounts — at various points accusing Olsen of choking her, or “grinding her into the carpet” and never telling police there had been a fourth instance of sex with Olsen in which she had participated — to undermine her credibility and raise reasonable doubt.

Had police done an adequate inspection of Olsen’s home, he said, they would have learned that his bed was only a few feet away from where one of his roommates slept, but all the other occupants in the house said they had heard nothing unusual that morning.

“You can’t hear what didn’t happen. The truth is what it is, and the truth is that rape never happened,” he said.

“The credible and believable evidence is for not guilty. Speak up.”

Kevin Olsen may not have been the ideal boyfriend, his attorney said, but he is not a rapist.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095; @MikeGordonOBS
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