Editor’s note: This story discusses sexual assault. If you need to report or discuss a sexual assault, you can call the Rape & Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 888-421-1100.
An ex-University of Utah football player will stand trial on rape and sodomy charges in a case that has since drawn scrutiny for how school officials allegedly declined to help the woman as she tried to report the athlete.
In a hearing on Thursday, a judge ruled there was enough evidence presented by prosecutors against dismissed linebacker Sione Lund for the criminal case to move forward. A trial date will be set later this fall.
Lund, now 23, faces two felony counts for the alleged September 2019 assault of Marissa Root, then a student at nearby Utah Valley University.
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify sexual assault victims, but Root agreed to the use of her name in this story. She joined the hearing remotely, listening as attorneys argued over the details of the alleged attack at Lund’s house.
She has filed a separate ongoing civil case against UVU and the U. for turning her away when she asked for help at both institutions after the alleged assault. UVU told her to go elsewhere because the alleged perpetrator was not a student there, Root said. And the U. said it had to support the athlete because he was their student; she said the advocate there never asked for his name.
The university says Root didn’t want to name her attacker, according to its statement.
On Thursday, Lund sat in the courtroom in a mask and blue tie, saying little. The one-time top football recruit did not testify in the hearing and spoke only once, in response to a judge, saying he would follow his attorney’s advice to not include his testimony. He nodded his head to entering pleas of not guilty to each charge.
The rows behind him were filled with his family members. On the other side of the aisle sat those there to support Root.
Andres Gonzalez, a prosecutor for the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, which brought the charges against Lund, argued that Root’s statements to a nurse following the alleged assault and to police later proved her distress at the situation.
He also had the detective in the case testify to how Root appeared at the hospital, looking for a sexual assault examination kit.
When responding there, Unified Police Detective Tiffany Parker, said she recalled Root “was pretty upset. I remember her face was red, her eyes were red. It looked as if she had been crying.”
After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Kristine Johnson said while there were some questions over witness credibility and when consent was withdrawn, there was “sufficient probable cause” to go to trial.
Arguments and testimony in court
Documents — and the later civil case filed last year by Root — note that Root had just started her sophomore year at Utah Valley University in the fall of 2019. She planned to go to one of the first parties of the school year with a group of friends at Lund’s house in Holladay.
Root had met Lund before that night through mutual friends. She told police she was not interested in him, according to a probable cause statement. And she said she had asked her friends at the party to help keep him away from her because she wasn’t comfortable.
But she later told police that at some point he isolated her in his room. Root told him, “No” several times, according to the charging documents, and repeated that she did not want to have sex with him. The police documents state that he then forced himself on her, as well as forcing her to perform a sex act on him.
The documents say Root was eventually able to get free, grab her things and leave the house. She went to a hospital after that with two friends and reported the case to police.
Police say when they talked to Lund, he acknowledged having a party and said he did have some sexual contact with Root, but he said it was consensual. A swab done in his mouth was compared to a sexual assault examination kit done on Root. Investigators say, based on the results, Lund could “not be excluded” as a match.
He was dismissed from the U.’s football team in March 2020. The U. has since confirmed that action came “as a result of the pending criminal case.”
Lund’s attorney, Tara Isaacson, called several witnesses as she highlighted what she saw as discrepancies in the evidence.
She argued that there was not a clear line with what took place in the bedroom, between what was and wasn’t consensual. “It’s hard to discern,” Isaacson said. “It’s just not clear what the line was.”
As such, she urged the judge to drop the sodomy charge. Johnson declined to do so, pointing out in Root’s statement that the woman had said her head was held down and she couldn’t breathe.
Isaacson also called to the stand the forensic nurse who conducted the sexual assault examination of Root. Bonnie Miller testified that she saw nothing “abnormal” in the exam to indicate physical markers of assault, like scratches or bruises.
But, in cross-examination, Miller noted those signs are not present in all cases of assault and doesn’t mean that an assault did not occur. “Everybody’s body responds to different trauma differently,” Miller said.
A friend and cousin of Lund’s also testified. Tau Muamata said he was in the theater room of Lund’s house when the assault is alleged to have occurred. He said he knew that Lund went into his bedroom with Root. But all he could hear, Muamata said, was laughing. He said he was never questioned by police about it.
Gonzalez asked Muamata if he was impaired at all during the party and whether he could have missed something. Muamata acknowledged he’d had 10 beers and “a couple shots” of whiskey, but stated he believed he was sobering up by 1 a.m., when the assault allegedly happened.
Muamata also said there were between 10 and 15 people at the party watching a movie; he said he knew maybe four of them and could not remember what movie they had on. But he said he doesn’t believe any of them heard anything strange.
Gonzalez questioned Muamata’s ability to recall only certain pieces of that night, calling it “convenient.”
Lund’s attorney next questioned the work of police in the case, who she said did not visit the crime scene to take pictures or collect evidence. She also faulted the Unified Police Department for losing the recording of its original interview with Lund.
The attorney later had a private investigator take photos of Lund’s house and talk to Lund’s friends, including another football player who was present at the party. The pictures were displayed in the courtroom Thursday, with Isaacson suggesting that because the theater room was next to the bedroom, anyone outside would have heard screams and not just the laughs that Muamata recalled.
She also noted that Root had said Lund locked the door during the assault, but she provided photos of Lund’s room — taken by the investigator — that did not show a lock.
Isaacson additionally said the detective in the case only collected texts from Root and not Lund.
She showed texts from months before the alleged assault where the two were calling each other “babe.” Isaacson believes that shows Root had indicated interest in Lund before.
Detective Parker testified she had tried to get texts from Lund but that he refused to cooperate. She also said getting photos of the scene was “not necessary in this case.”
Other allegations with football players
Root spoke publicly about her case shortly after a student at Utah State University, Kaytriauna Flint, filed suit there over allegations that the Logan school brushes aside women who report they have been sexually assaulted by a member of its football team, which she said happened to her.
And the U. has now seen at least four criminal cases involving football players allegedly assaulting or threatening women in the past three years.
Lund was dismissed from the team at the same time that another player, Donte Banton, was also suspended. He is no longer on the team roster. Banton was later charged with rape, after police allege he admitted to them that a woman he was with had told him she wasn’t interested in sex but he went ahead anyway.
Banton was football player Terrell Perriman’s roommate at the time. Perriman, was charged with allegedly kidnapping and raping a 17-year-old girl, and then had additional charges added by prosecutors for allegedly raping two other women.
Salt Lake City police have said they are investigating any connections on whether either man allegedly helped the other in carrying out an assault.
Perriman is facing eight felony counts, and his case is still pending in court. Banton has pleaded not guilty to a first-degree felony, and his case is moving toward trial.
A fourth case involving a U. football player occurred in February 2019. In that case, a player was accused of threatening a 17-year-old girl on a voicemail that he would “kill her” and allegedly later locking her in his dorm room. He was charged with two misdemeanors.
That case drew attention because the U. police detective assigned to investigate it — Kayla Dallof — apparently left for the day without taking any action, despite knowing about the threats. She was fired for it.
Dallof had also delayed looking into concerns reported by Lauren McCluskey before the student-athlete was killed by the man she was trying to alert police about.