Late Wednesday afternoon, 19 months after he was arrested and charged with the rape of his girlfriend, Kevin Olsen became a free man.
The former UNC Charlotte quarterback, 23, was found not guilty on three counts of second-degree rape and one count of second-degree sex offense. Each charge carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
When the verdicts were read aloud, Olsen turned in his chair at the defense table and stared triumphantly at his family behind him. He hugged his attorneys, George and Bree Laughrun, then sank back in his chair in tears.
“He told me, ‘You never lost faith in me,’” Laughrun said later.
Behind him, Olsen’s parents, Chris and Sue, and other family and friends were wrapped in teary embraces. When deputies swarmed the family scrum to order quiet, Chris Olsen apologized repeatedly as the celebration continued around him.
A few minutes before, Kevin Olsen’s big brother Greg Olsen, the star tight end for the Carolina Panthers, appeared to be praying against a courthouse railing. Now he hugged everyone within reach.
Minutes before, Olsen had covered his mouth with his Panthers cap to hide what he was saying and leaned in to talk with George Laughrun.
“He told me, ‘You and your daughter have helped put my family back together again,’ ” Laughrun said.
Across the room, Olsen’s accuser was also surrounded by family and friends. But there, the mood was different.
Last week, she had described in graphic detail how she and Olsen had talked of marriage but argued often. In the early morning hours of Feb. 19, 2017, she testified, Olsen tried to kill himself and then began to beat her. When he demanded sex, she said, she was too hurt and frightened to resist. At one point, she said, Olsen told her that he couldn’t have sex with her if she didn’t stop “f------ crying.”
On Wednesday, as she waited for the jury’s return, the woman began to cry. When the verdict was announced, the accuser continued crying as she left the courtroom. In the hallway, a deputy put a hand on the 25-year-old woman’s shoulder to help her walk away.
“We told her ... that we’re very proud of her and she has exhibited so much strength throughout this process and that we know that she will continue to exhibit that kind of strength, living her life going forward as a survivor,” prosecutor Jane Honeycutt said outside the courtroom.
The two-week courtroom drama was at times a trial by text. The jury of nine men and three women — none of them of college age — heard or read hundreds of text messages exchanged between Olsen and his girlfriend before and after the alleged assault.
Laughrun said a digital expert he hired for the case had sifted through more than 15,000 texts found on the accuser’s phone.
Hours before she says she was attacked, Olsen sent her a text threatening to kill her if she left him. After his arrest, the accuser sent messages to friends questioning if she had even been raped. She sent another saying she hoped to ruin his life.
Prosecutors say that and any inconsistencies in the accuser’s testimony and various accounts of the incident were the result of the trauma she had endured. George Laughrun attributed them to a lack of credibility.
In picking the jury, Laughrun said the defense team got a break that the jury pool was largely bereft of college-age women. In the end, Olsen’s case was heard by nine men and three women — most of them a generation or more removed from their college years.
In the end, when the accuser looked into the jury box during two days of testimony, no one like her looked back.
“What we liked about this jury is that they understood this case came down to credibility,” George Laughrun said. “There are sorts of versions of what happened out there, which one are you going to believe.”
Laughrun said he and the Olsen family discussed putting Kevin Olsen on the witness stand before deciding not to.
“We debated and debated, but we made the right call,” he said Wednesday night. Asked to explain, Laughrun said his client’s testimony was not needed. “Based on the way the evidence played out, we thought it could not get better.”
Laughrun said a discussion he had with one juror after the trial supported that conclusion. The juror told him the first jury vote after deliberations began was 10-2 in favor of Olsen, Laughrun said.
That split held up until the very end. At 3 p.m. Wednesday, the jury sent a note to Superior Court Judge Karen Eady-Williams asking her what would happen if they could not reach a unanimous verdict on any of the four charges. “What would happen if we have a hung jury?” the judge read from the note.
She brought them into the courtroom to tell them that they had a duty to reach a decision that “reflected the truth” in the case.
An hour later, they came back.
Kevin Olsen left the courthouse with his family without commenting to the media.
The youngest member of a famous football family from Wayne, N.J., Kevin Olsen was a former top high school recruit who was signed by the University of Miami, but left the teams there and at Towson State University due to problems with alcohol and drugs. At UNC Charlotte, he was suspended from the football team and the school after his arrest and indictment.
His former girlfriend testified that on the night of the alleged assault, a despondent Kevin Olsen told her he worried about his future and his repeated failures to live up to his big brother Greg. Greg Olsen’s name appeared on the list of possible defense witness in case the prosecution made an issue of his relationship with Kevin.
On Wednesday, after the brothers hugged in the courtroom, the Olsen family streamed out into the hallway in a happy clump.
Kevin Olsen hung back. Alone in the courtroom with his attorneys, he began to talk with a few of the bailiffs and gestured at a bulge at the bottoms of the pants of his light gray suit.
As part of the bond that freed him from jail the day after his arrest, Olsen had to wear a ankle monitor.
Now, he wanted to know how he could have it taken off.
Staff writer Joe Marusak contributed.