Home World Terrence Shannon Jr.’s rape trial to begin Monday in Kansas

Terrence Shannon Jr.’s rape trial to begin Monday in Kansas


One of the basement bar areas at Lawrence, Kansas’ 105-year-old Jayhawk Cafe is called the “Martini Room.” And it was in that room, steps from the University of Kansas campus, where the 18-year-old would later tell police she first saw the attractive guy wave her over as she and her friend were heading for the door.

At her friend’s encouragement, she said, she ventured back in his direction, slowly weaving through the hot and sweaty crowd, its numbers swelled that September night by a KU football victory hours earlier at home against the University of Illinois.

What happened in the seconds that followed is soon to be a question for a jury to answer when the rape trial of Illinois men’s basketball standout and Chicago native Terrence Shannon Jr. begins Monday in a Douglas County, Kansas, courtroom.

Shannon, 23, faces one count of rape or an alternative count of aggravated sexual battery, also a felony, in a case that stems from a trip he and two others took to watch that September Illini-KU football game.

Lawrence police said in an affidavit that the 18-year-old told a detective that Shannon put his hand under her skirt, grabbed her buttocks and penetrated her vagina with his finger while at the bar.

“I was terrified,” she said during a May 10 preliminary hearing in Douglas County, according to a transcript.

Shannon has denied the allegations. His criminal defense attorneys declined comment for this story and filed separate court motions questioning the strength of the state’s DNA evidence and suggesting authorities have failed to pursue another suspect.

The closely watched trial could prove to be another stress test of a criminal justice system that’s been seen nationally as being too lenient toward high-profile athletes accused of sex crimes, and of a district attorney’s office that’s faced past criticism over its handling of sexual assault cases under a previous administration.

The current DA, Suzanne Valdez, a former KU law professor who once chided her university’s handling of sexual assault complaints, was recently the target of a disciplinary hearing in which a panel of attorneys recommended she be publicly censured over statements made toward Douglas County District Court Chief Judge James McCabria, the Lawrence Times reported.

A spokesperson for Valdez’s office previously declined to comment on the Shannon case.

Shannon’s legal team already scored a federal court victory earlier this year, persuading a judge to overturn his university suspension on the grounds that his extended absence from basketball (he’d missed six games at that point) violated his due process rights and potentially jeopardized millions of dollars from his NIL (name, image, likeness) contract and future earnings in the NBA.

Indeed, his criminal defense attorneys have appeared eager to conclude the rape trial before the NBA draft begins on June 26.

A first-team All-Big Ten selection this season and last, the fifth-year guard guided the Illini to a Big Ten Tournament championship — being named Most Outstanding Player in the process — and a trip to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight, where they were trounced by eventual champion Connecticut 77-52.

Illinois guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) walks up the floor in the second half of a game against Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston on Jan. 24, 2024. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)
Illinois guard Terrence Shannon Jr. walks up the floor in the second half of a game against Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston on Jan. 24, 2024. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

Shannon was named a third-team All-American this season. But his NBA aspirations could hinge on the outcome of his rape trial. Some basketball writers predict he could be taken as high as no. 13; others have him falling out of the first round.

“A cloud remains over his breakout season and the type of speed, athleticism, shotmaking improvement and defensive tools that would normally generate plenty of NBA interest,” a Bleacher Report article read.

The trip to Kansas

On May 10, as he prepared to receive his sociology degree from Illinois, Shannon appeared in a Douglas County courtroom for a preliminary hearing. A transcript of that proceeding offers the clearest picture to date of that early September evening.

Shannon and two roommates — teammate Justin Harmon and graduate assistant DyShawn Hobson — arrived in Lawrence about 45 minutes before the 6:30 p.m. kickoff, Shannon testified.

Hobson previously said in a sworn statement that he told Illini assistant coaches about his roommates’ plans to attend the Kansas game and was directed to drive the pair to and from Lawrence, a roughly six-and-a-half-hour drive each way.

Shannon testified that his group met some KU basketball players at a tailgate before the game. After the Illini’s defeat, the trio went to the dormitory that houses the basketball team, where, Shannon testified, he stayed for about an hour, drinking shots of Crown Royal.

Next, Shannon said, he and his roommates relocated to Jayhawk Cafe, known locally as “The Hawk.” Joined by other members of KU’s basketball team, they congregated in the bar’s Martini Room. Shannon continued to drink, testifying that his level of intoxication was a three or four on a scale of one to 10.

“Were you drunk?” his attorney asked.

“No, sir,” Shannon responded.

“And did you understand what was going on around you?”

“Yes, sir.”

At KU, where the basketball program was started by the game’s founder, James Naismith, the team’s players are celebrities, and their appearance at The Hawk drew the attention of other patrons. Shannon said he encountered other women that night, but he denied knowing his accuser or having any physical contact with her.

He also told his attorney he went to the bar that night mindful of his ultimate goal of being in the NBA.

“And do you monitor yourself and your behavior to make sure you don’t jeopardize that?” his attorney asked.

“All the time,” Shannon responded.

Shannon testified he left The Hawk near closing time, 2 a.m., and eventually returned to Champaign.

By then, his 18-year-old accuser was back at her apartment, she testified, tears in her eyes as she searched her phone for a photo of the man she said assaulted her.

30 seconds at The Hawk

Hours earlier, the 18-year-old woman had been at the KU football game with a friend. The two stopped home, she said, went to Jayhawk Cafe, left for a second bar and then returned to Ohio Street for another visit to The Hawk.

It was around 12:15 a.m. when they got there, she said. Down in the Martini Room, she had three sips of vodka and Red Bull, which she testified was her first drink of the night.

It was then that she said she saw the man she later identified as Shannon wave her over. She recognized one of the men next to him as a KU basketball player, she told the court, and as she got closer, she could see a woman to Shannon’s left “grinding on him.”

“I kind of made eye contact with him and he reached out his arm to grab me to pull him over towards him,” she testified. “So he kind of — I don’t remember where he grabbed me, but he grabbed me, and then as I got closer, he started grabbing on my hip area and my butt area.”

The entire encounter lasted maybe 30 seconds, she said. And at first, she said she didn’t have a problem with him touching her over her clothes.

But his right hand slid under her skirt, she said, and grabbed her butt. Next, she said she felt his hand move her underwear to the side and a finger inside her for what she estimated to be no more than 10 seconds.

Then, she said, he “just stopped.”

The two never spoke to each other. She said she froze, a drink in one hand and a phone in the other, both arms pressed near her chest.

“It didn’t even comprehend that was an option to me at that point,” she told the court when asked why she didn’t try to push him away. “I was so scared and shocked that I — the only way that I could react was standing there.”

When it was over, she said she pushed through the crowd in search of her friend, who was close but separated by other people. She said her friend didn’t immediately understand when she told her they needed to leave. She made her way to a hallway where she sat for a minute, she said, until her friend found her. The two left and drove home, getting there around 1:15 a.m.

In bed, replaying the events of the night, she said she grabbed her phone to search for the man’s identity. She knew the Jayhawks’ opponent that night had been the Illini, so, she said, she started scanning photos of football players for both teams. Remembering that he had been near a KU basketball player, she pulled up photos of the KU team and then the Illini squad.

She stopped at number 0: Terrence Shannon Jr.

“Immediately when I saw that picture, I knew it was him,” she told the court.

She testified that she didn’t initially think to call Lawrence police.

“My first thought was processing what had happened rather than immediately going to the police,” she said. “I didn’t even know if going to the police was an option I wanted to pursue, but I just realized that his actions are not just and I need justice, and girls should not have this happen to them.”

She spoke with Lawrence police that afternoon and went to a hospital the same day to have a sexual assault nurse examination kit collected.

Three months later, Lawrence police obtained a warrant for Shannon’s arrest, sparking his short-lived suspension from basketball and a university misconduct investigation that was eventually closed due to insufficient evidence.

A rejected plea deal and an alternative suspect

On May 31, the Lawrence Journal-World reported that Shannon rejected the state’s plea offer to amend his charge to one felony count of aggravated battery that was sexually motivated. He would have had to have registered as a sex offender for 15 years but could have avoided prison.

His attorneys, meanwhile, filed separate motions leading up to the trial, both of which attempted to poke holes in the state’s case.

In one motion, Shannon’s attorneys wrote that a Kansas Bureau of Investigation report on DNA evidence found no male DNA in swabs taken from the 18-year-old’s vaginal and external genital areas.

A forensic scientist commissioned by the defense reviewed the state agency’s data and concluded in a report filed by the defense that Shannon was excluded from a DNA profile found in a swab of the woman’s buttocks; a partial profile from an inner thigh swab was not suitable for comparison, the scientist wrote.

The scientist’s review of the KBI report also determined that the quantity of possible DNA in samples taken from the woman’s underwear were essentially too low to say whether they contained male DNA.

“The claim that ‘male DNA’ was located on the underwear swabs is not scientifically valid and should be excluded,” Shannon’s attorneys wrote in the motion.

Both sides asked the court to weigh in on whether the state’s DNA evidence, or the report from the defense’s forensic scientist, could be introduced at trial — a motion known in legalese as a Daubert hearing.

However, “in the interest of reaching trial expeditiously,” Shannon’s attorneys withdrew their request for such a hearing — his attorneys also opposed a state request to push back the trial’s start date during a status conference Tuesday in which the case was reassigned to a new judge due to a scheduling conflict.

Three days before the trial, Shannon’s lawyers won a judge’s approval to introduce evidence at trial of an alternative suspect.

That person is identified in attorney filings as a “third party defendant.” The Chicago Tribune is not naming him as he’s not been charged in connection with the 18-year-old woman’s alleged rape.

Shannon’s attorneys said they have witnesses and video from the Martini Room that put the third-party defendant in the spot where the 18-year-old said Shannon was standing when she encountered him.

Police have not questioned this third-party defendant while investigating the 18-year-old’s reported rape, Shannon’s attorneys said.

Additionally, Shannon’s attorneys said the third-party defendant was accused by a different woman — also 18 — of touching her vagina outside her pants, without her consent, two weeks before the alleged Shannon incident, in the same area of the Martini Room where Shannon’s accuser said she was assaulted. He was not charged in connection with that accusation.

The state sought, unsuccessfully, to prevent the jury from hearing evidence of that previous incident, arguing in a court filing that “neither the third party’s presence at a crowded bar, nor any evidence of his alleged propensity to commit unrelated crimes, indicate that the victim misidentified the defendant.”

And during cross-examination at the May 10 hearing, Shannon’s accuser said she was certain that the hand that touched her belonged to Shannon.

“I know that he never left physical contact as he grabbed me to pull me over,” she testified, “and then that was the incident.”

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