(Reuters) - A jury on Friday cleared former University of Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson of a rape charge in a case that has riveted the campus in Missoula, court officials said.
Johnson, a former team captain of the Montana Grizzlies, had been accused in July of raping another student while they watched a movie in her bedroom last February.
The U.S. government last year launched investigations of allegations that the University of Montana and Missoula had failed to aggressively pursue sexual assault and harassment reports, several of which involved football players.
Another former player, running back Beau Donaldson, was sentenced to 10 years in prison last year after pleading guilty to raping a woman at his residence in 2010.
The three-week trial in the Montana Fourth Judicial District Court in Missoula centered on differing accounts by Johnson, then the university’s starting quarterback, and his accuser of what took place on February 4, 2012.
The unidentified woman told prosecutors she repeatedly responded to Johnson’s sexual advances by saying, “No, not tonight,” court documents show. She told authorities that Johnson later raped her.
Johnson’s attorneys said the sex was consensual, according to legal filings. They did not respond on Friday to requests for comment.
They had previously accused the state of using the case “as a means to try to send a message” amid investigations of complaints about how the university, Missoula police and the prosecutor’s office handled sexual assault allegations, according to documents.
Assistant Chief Deputy Missoula County Attorney Suzy Boylan dismissed those claims on Friday, saying: “This case was charged and tried on the evidence.”
Johnson and Donaldson were suspended from the team during the criminal proceedings. Johnson’s future with the Grizzlies was not immediately clear.
Rape allegations on and off campus have shaken Missoula, a city of 86,000 in the Bitterroot Mountains of western Montana. In May the U.S. Justice Department announced it would examine responses by local officials to 80 reported rapes over a three-year period.
Weeks later, the U.S. Education Department opened its own investigation into whether the university responded appropriately to at least 11 reported sexual assaults since 2010.
Three of those cases involved rape accusations against members of the football team, including Johnson and Donaldson.
The university, which has cooperated with the probes, has pledged to ensure the safety of women on the 15,600-student campus. A training program on preventing sexual violence is now required for incoming students.
Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Xavier Briand