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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Ending The Culture Of Rape In Alabama

By Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Published on May 17, 2018

Yesterday, Tuscaloosa County, Alabama Sheriff Ron Abernathy patted himself on the back for the way his law enforcement agency handled the criminal investigation of a rape that was reported by 20-year-old University of Alabama honors student Megan Rondini during the early morning hours of July 2, 2015. Megan’s rape “suspect” was identified as 35-year-old Terry Jackson “Sweet T” Bunn, Jr., a known sexual predator who cruises Tuscaloosa-area bars and clubs in search of young coeds for sexual gratification.

Sweet T’s family members are major donors to the Alabama Crimson Tide Foundation. His father’s Cessna jet has been used by the University’s Athletics Department on football recruiting trips.

Ron Abernathy’s wife, Leslie, heads major fundraising initiatives for The University of Alabama. Sheriff Abernathy is a Crimson Tide football groupie who reveres his access to skyboxes and celebrities during Alabama football games.

Sources connected to the Sheriff’s Department, who must remain anonymous because they are not authorized to publicly speak on this subject, have confirmed that Sheriff Abernathy directed his investigators to “script” Megan Rondini’s rape investigation. This order ensured that Sweet T would escape criminal justice in Megan’s rape case.

The two lead investigators -- Adam Jones and Josh Hastings -- quickly developed a multifaceted approach to complying with Abernathy’s "scripting" directive.

First, Jones and Hastings shielded Sweet T from being associated with the crime of sexual assault. Investigator Hastings actually suggested answers to Sweet T during his videotaped police “interrogation”. Hastings ingratiated himself to the “suspect” throughout his interview with him. Hastings ended the interview with this telling “good ole boy” declaration: “The way I look at, man, if it was me on the other side of it, I would want you to do the same for me.”

Second, the investigators provided the illusion of an investigation while actively allowing evidence to be tampered with, destroyed or simply not collected. They failed to secure and freeze the crime scene on their first visit to Sweet T’s residence (where Megan said she was raped). They also allowed Sweet T a two-hour window of opportunity to hide, alter, or destroy evidence at the scene after informing him that they were conducting a rape investigation in a case where he was the designated “suspect”. Additionally, they gave Sweet T a two-hour window at the scene to coordinate and script his storyline with friend Jason Barksdale, who was present on the scene during the time of the sexual encounter between Megan and Sweet T.

Third, the investigators attempted to create leverage over Megan Rondini by accusing her of property crimes she allegedly committed during her escape from the crime scene. Investigator Jones even read Megan her Miranda rights during her police interview. In doing so, Jones hoped Megan would drop her rape complaint. Even under threats and bullying from Investigator Jones, a traumatized Megan Rondini pressed on with her rape charge against Sweet T.

Fourth, the investigators downgraded Megan’s rape report to a “Special Inquiry”, which is not reported in law enforcement databases as a crime. This move was designed to keep Sweet T’s name out of databases on reported rapes.

Finally, Sheriff Abernathy asked Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall to review the Department’s investigation of Megan’s rape case. Marshall, a former Marshall County, Alabama district attorney, lacks experience in prosecuting rape cases and other major felonies. What is more, Marshall has a documented personal history of looking the other way when victims like Donna Dunlap complained about “horrific” sexual assaults that are committed by powerful men, including a member of his staff.

Women In Alabama Have A Real Opportunity To Police And Prosecute Rapists

Women voters in Alabama finally have a real opportunity to police and prosecute powerful rapists. Unfortunately, Ron Abernathy and Steve Marshall just don’t get it. As demonstrated by their official actions, Abernathy and Marshall think their job is to cover for each other and protect rich and well-connected rapists through the use and abuse of prosecutorial discretion.

Neither man has a solid track record of convictions in rape cases involving powerful men. Abernathy and Marshall are viewed as nothing more than photogenic “mascots” in the law enforcement community. They are also considered as political hustlers.

In December 2017, women voters in Alabama rose up to end the U.S. senatorial hopes of Roy Moore, who emerged in the closing weeks of the campaign as a reputed child molester. Women voters simply could not bear the thought of a reported child molester representing them in Washington. For reasons that defied law enforcement logic and undermined victims rights, Attorney General Steve Marshall joined the ranks of those who publicly supported Moore’s candidacy.

On June 5, 2018, women voters, along with men who truly respect the minds, bodies, and dignity of women, have an paradigm-shifting opportunity to retire Steve Marshall as Attorney General and replace him with a tough, seasoned prosecutor who understands the culture of rape and how we can end it. This prosecutor is Alice Martin. Her long and distinguished track record in putting well-known criminals in jail is second to none.

No woman should suffer Megan Rondini’s tragic fate. Megan reached a breaking point in her rape case on February 26, 2016 when she committed suicide in her Texas home. Meanwhile, Sweet T is still cruising Tuscaloosa bars and clubs looking for his next sexual prey.

The next rape victim in Alabama may be your daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, wife, mother, or close friend. If the rapist is a rich and powerful man, it is a safe bet that Sheriff Ron Abernathy and Attorney General Steve Marshall will not stand with you and your grieving family.

PHOTO: Megan Rondini is shown during her interview with Tuscaloosa Sheriff's Department Investigator Adam Jones on July 2, 2015. She was bullied and threatened by Jones during her most vulnerable moment as a young woman who was seeking justice for a promptly and properly reported rape. Sheriff Ron Abernathy made sure the justice Megan was seeking was denied to her. Attorney General Steve Marshall ratified this tragic outcome. Megan ended her suffering on February 26, 2016. On May 16, 2018, Ron Abernathy publicly patted himself on the back for the way he handled Megan's case.

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