Rape trial begins for former University of Illinois basketball player; defense highlights presence of former KU basketball team member at the bar scene

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Former Illinois basketball player Terrence Edward Shannon at his trial on Tuesday June, 11, 2024, in Douglas County District Court.

A Douglas County jury heard opening arguments and testimony from the alleged victim Tuesday morning at the trial for a former star University of Illinois basketball player accused of raping a woman at a Lawrence bar.

The Illinois player, Terrence Edward Shannon, 23, of Champaign, Illinois, is charged in Douglas County District Court with one felony count of rape or, in the alternative, one felony count of aggravated sexual battery, according to charging documents. The incident is alleged to have occurred on Sept. 9, 2023, at the Jayhawk Cafe, 1340 Ohio St., in the Martini Room while Shannon was in Kansas to attend a KU football game against Illinois.

The now 19-year-old woman testified on Tuesday that she had attended the same football game that Shannon had attended earlier that day but only met him at the bar late that night. She said she and her friend had gone to the bar in hopes of running into some friends and that she only had a few sips of a vodka cocktail throughout the night.

She said she was overstimulated by the crowded bar, and she and her friend, who was her roommate, were about to leave the bar, when Shannon waved her over.

“I thought that he was cute and I thought (my friend) didn’t want to leave yet,” the woman testified

Her friend told her to go talk to the man, so she did. She walked back into the bar and Shannon was just a few feet away, and she recognized now former KU basketball player Kevin McCullar standing next to Shannon. She said there was also another woman who was present and dancing very close to Shannon. All of them were standing in a corner where the bar met the wall near the exit, she said.

She said as she struggled through the crowd, Shannon reached out and grabbed her somewhere on her arm since her hands were full with her phone and drink. She said Shannon moved her up against the wall beside him and moved his hand down to her bottom, then under her skirt and underwear. The woman said Shannon then sexually assaulted her.

Assistant District Attorney Samantha Foster asked the woman if she wanted Shannon to do that; she said “no.”

“I was terrified. I was scared. I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do,” the woman said.

She said it ended when Shannon pulled his hand away and she turned and started moving toward the door. She reconnected with her friend and tried to tell her what happened but it was too loud and her friend didn’t understand what had happened. Her friend insisted on saying goodbye to a friend at the bar and the woman waited in a hallway until her friend returned and they left.

“I was still scared. I didn’t know what had happened at that point,” the woman said.

The woman said she and her friend went back to their house, and the woman told her story to three people at the house. She then started to ask herself: “Who would have done this to me?”

She remembered that Shannon was with a KU basketball player and checked the KU football and basketball rosters but did not find Shannon. She then remembered the Kansas versus Illinois football game from earlier that evening and went to check the Illinois rosters.

“Then I checked the basketball roster and he was the first one to come up. He had dreads with different colors and the exact same face,” the woman said.

She said she then searched online to find out if what had happened to her was even a crime and to what degree and how to file a report. The next day she reported the incident to police and had a sexual assault exam at the Lawrence hospital.

In opening arguments, Foster said the state’s evidence would rely on the woman’s testimony since the DNA results from the woman’s sexual assault exam were inconclusive and there were no eyewitnesses to the assault.

“(She) is going to tell you how eye contact across a bar led to a wave that led to her body being violated,” Foster said.

Shannon’s defense attorney, Tricia Bath, of Leawood, said that the woman’s statements to police and in testimony were mostly consistent, except for some key details that will be revealed during the trial.

Bath also argued that with the size of Shannon and the other “large” men in question, the small area where the incident is alleged to have happened would not accommodate so many people.

She said that with so many people there, it also could have been someone else. The defense presented surveillance video to show just how busy that area was on the night in question.

And in opening statements, the defense particularly highlighted the presence of former KU basketball team member Arterio Morris. Bath said that Morris — whom she identified by name in court — had been accused of a similar act involving a different woman only two weeks prior in the same spot in the bar, but the woman in that incident was wearing full-length pants, and the groping is alleged to have occurred outside the woman’s clothing.

Morris, 21, of Dallas, was eventually charged with rape in connection with an incident in August. Those charges led to Morris’ dismissal from the men’s basketball team. However, those charges were later dismissed due to insufficient evidence, as the Journal-World reported.

Shannon’s other defense attorney, Mark Sutter, repeatedly brought up Morris while questioning the lead detective in the case, Joshua Leitner, later in the day.

Sutter read into the record an account of the incident reported two weeks earlier. The account, which was derived from police reports and had been stipulated to by the prosecution and defense, alleges that Morris put his arm around a woman at the bar and started touching her sexually over her clothes. However, Morris was never charged nor convicted of a crime related to that alleged incident.

Leitner, a detective with the Lawrence Police Department, said that this alleged incident was investigated by the KU Police Department, and that he hadn’t known any details about it other than its location. He also said that when he was investigating the allegations against Shannon, the woman’s identification of Shannon was clear and he never had a reason to suspect Morris.

The state and Sutter also questioned Leitner about the surveillance footage from the bar on Sept. 9, which lasted about 30 minutes.

In the video, Shannon can be seen moving through the bar to the area where the incident is alleged to have occurred, which is off-camera. Shortly after that, the woman comes into the bar and then goes off camera in the same place Shannon went off camera. She stays off camera for about 34 seconds before coming back from that part of the bar.

Sutter noted that McCullar, whom the woman had described as being next to Shannon, is on the far right side of the frame, and Morris’ hand is on his shoulder; the rest of Morris’ body is outside of the frame, and no part of Shannon is visible in the frame.

Leitner confirmed that Morris could be identified by a distinctive tattoo on his hand. But he also said that just because the woman had described McCullar and Shannon as being next to each other, it didn’t necessarily mean that they were right next to each other. He said the woman had also described another woman as being very close to Shannon, dancing on his arm.

Leitner also said that during the entire 34-second span when the woman was off camera, Morris’ hand could be seen on McCullar’s shoulder.

During opening arguments, Bath said Shannon’s best defense was that he isn’t known by his peers to be the kind of person who would do such a thing. She said he had been vying for the NBA his entire life and had a real shot to get there. She said he was with numerous KU players who were the center of attention.

“He was standing next to Kevin McCullar,” Bath said. “He knew all eyes were on him.”

The trial is set to run through Thursday. The courtroom is about half full of media personnel, courthouse staff, and supporters of Shannon. He is currently free on a $50,000 bond.

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