By Donald V. Watkins ©Copyrighted and Published on July 1, 2018
Tomorrow will mark the third anniversary of Megan Rondini’s reported rape case. Megan was a 20-year-old University of Alabama honors student who accused Terry Jackson “Sweet T” Bunn, Jr., of raping her at his Cottondale, Alabama home during the early morning hours of July 2, 2015. Sweet T was 34-years-old at the time.
Sweet T and his close friend, Jason Stephen Barksdale, picked up Megan Rondini as she was walking home after a night of socializing with her friends at Innisfree Irish Pub on University Boulevard in Tuscaloosa. They took Megan to her apartment first. Before entering the apartment, Barksdale attempted to hand Sweet T an item that he pulled out of his back pocket. Sweet T stopped him for the moment and the two men then entered the apartment behind Megan.
Once inside the apartment, Sweet T stated during a July 2, 2015 interview that, “…. [Megan] made a drink for me and my friend.” Later in the short and friendly interview, Sweet T affirmed that “[s]he made us a drink at her residence ….”. In his July 6, 2015 police interview, Sweet T admitted for the first time that Megan made herself a drink, as well.
When Sheriff’s Department investigators accompanied Megan Rondini to her apartment following her July 2nd interview, they did not collect or test the glasses for the presence of any “date rape” drug even though Megan exhibited gaps in her memory and reported to investigators that she did not remember leaving Innisfree or taking Sweet T and Jason Barksdale to her apartment.
Deputy Josh Hastings and Investigator Adam Jones were the lead investigators assigned to Megan Rondini’s rape case. Both men were experienced criminal investigators. Jones has been with the department for nearly 20 years in an investigative capacity. Hastings was promoted to the rank of sergeant in April of 2016.
Sweet T is the son of Terry Jackson Bunn, Sr., a rich and powerful donor to the Crimson Tide Foundation. Reportedly, Bunn, Sr., was also an “Honorary Tuscaloosa County Deputy Sheriff” who held a Sheriff’s badge and commission card at the time.
The Rondini-Bunn Sexual Encounter
No one disputes that Megan Rondini had a sexual encounter with Sweet T in the early morning hours of July 2, 2015. She claimed it was rape. Sweet T initially denied the encounter and even denied that Rondini had been to his house.
After talking to his lawyer, Sweet T changed his story. He admitted the sexual encounter at his home, but claimed it was consensual.
After escaping from Sweet T’s house following the sexual encounter, Megan went directly to DCH for a rape examination. DCH did not have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner who had special training to conduct sexual assault evidentiary exams for rape victims. The staff on duty only performed a routine rape kit exam and collected a urine sample from Megan.
Sheriff’s Department investigators were called to DCH by the Tuscaloosa Police Department because Megan told the hospital staff she had been sexually assaulted and she wanted to press criminal charges against the man who raped her. Upon arriving at DCH, Investigator Adam Jones obtained a recorded audio statement from Megan.
At the time, Megan did not know Sweet T’s real name. When she gave investigators his nickname -- Sweet T -- they immediately knew him as “TJ”. They told Megan his real name -- Terry Jackson Bunn, Jr. They repeatedly referred to him as “TJ” while talking to Megan at DCH.
Even though Megan was reporting a rape complaint against Sweet T, Investigator Jones classified his initial crime report as a “Special Inquiry”. A “Special Inquiry” is the lowest classification assigned to sexual assault complaints during Tuscaloosa Sheriff Ron Abernathy’s tenure. A shocking 50% of all sexual assaults in Tuscaloosa are classified as “Special Inquiry”.
Designating Megan Rondini’s rape case as a “Special Inquiry” had the operative effect of shielding Terry Jackson Bunn, Jr.’s name from any public association with a Sexual Assault investigation. It also showed favoritism to the “suspect” at the very start of the investigation. Furthermore, this designation obfuscated the nature of the crime under investigation and would hamper a search of public records for Incident Reports of sexual assault crimes that named “Sweet T” as a "suspect".
Megan’s case received this classification before investigators took any statements from Sweet T and/or third-party witnesses, before the alleged crime scene (i.e., Sweet T’s house) had been visited, searched and photographed, and before Megan’s rape kit and urine sample had been forensically tested (which never occurred).
Sheriff Abernathy, who unsuccessfully tried to intervene on Sweet T’s behalf to quash an earlier rape investigation during Sheriff Ted Sexton’s term in office, ordered investigators to “script” Megan Rondini’s rape case, according to confidential sources familiar with the situation. The investigators dutifully complied with this order. As a result, Megan’s rape complaint was down-graded a “Special Inquiry”.
Going forward, Megan would catch hell from investigators Adam Jones, while Sweet T would be afforded cushy, special treatment by Josh Hastings in an effort to aid him in escaping prosecution.
During her police interview, Jones turned the tables on Megan by accusing her of a variety of felony property offenses for acts she committed while fleeing the scene of her alleged rape. Through their words and deeds, these property-related crimes appeared to be much more important to investigators than Megan's sexual assault allegations. In fact, only 21 minutes of Megan’s hours-long interview are dedicated to the sexual assault, with the bulk of the remainder focused on the property-related charges against her.
By the time Jones read Megan Rondini her Miranda rights, she had been up for approximately 24 hours, spent a night drinking with friends, claimed she was sexually assaulted, escaped from what she believed was a locked room by climbing out a second story window getting bruised and scraped in the process, went to the hospital and underwent a rape kit/forensic examination, been questioned about the assault while in the hospital and then went to meet with Investigator Jones at the Sheriff’s Department to continue the interview.
Prior to the interview, Megan’s father, Mike Rondini, spoke with Investigator Jones who was very anxious and eager for Megan to come to the station only hours after being released from DCH Regional Hospital. Mr. Rondini expressed concern that an attorney was not available to represent Megan, especially because he understood the accused was a person of some influence in the community. Investigator Jones’ response to having an attorney present was, “Whatever for?” Jones went on to claim his unit was specially trained to handle high profile cases.
Sweet T’s First Version of His Sexual Encounter With Megan
After taking a statement from Megan at DCH, Jones, Hastings and two other investigators visited Sweet T at his residence at 6:45 a.m. on July 2, 2015. He invited them into the house. He consented to a search of his home and allowed them to take photographs.
Investigators asked Sweet T if he had come home with a female. Sweet T lied to them by stating that he had not.
While investigators were taking photos of the scene, Adam Jones heard a window shut inside the residence. Investigators confronted Sweet T about the window and he advised them that he wanted to speak to his lawyer, which he did.
Jones, Hastings, and the other investigators left the residence. They returned about two hours later.
Even though Sweet T had given permission for a search of his residence, the investigators did not remove the occupants from the house or secure the crime scene before leaving after their initial visit. In fact, they left Sweet T and Jason Barksdale alone at the scene after Sweet T had been told he was the “suspect” in Megan’s rape case. This failure of duty by the investigators gave Sweet T an ample opportunity to remove, altered, tamper with, or otherwise destroy evidence in the residence after they retreated from the scene.
Sweet T’s Second Version of His Sexual Encounter With Megan
After investigators returned to the Sweet T’s residence at approximately 8:30 that morning, Attorney Jason Neff spoke to Sweet T and he again gave investigators permission to search his residence. This time, Sweet T and Barksdale were asked to exit the house. The investigators processed the scene and collected Sweet T’s bedsheets. They also collected several items outside the house.
Investigators also interviewed Sweet T and Barksdale at the scene. Each man gave a statement.
After speaking with Neff, Sweet T abandoned his first version of the “truth” and provided a second version of the “truth”. In the new version of the “truth”, Sweet T acknowledged that Megan was at his house in the early hours of the morning. He had seen Megan in Innisfree Irish Pub that night and on prior occasions, but did not know her name. Sweet T said that he and Barksdale picked Megan up as she was walking home alone. They took Megan to her apartment, where she made a drink for Barksdale and him. Sweet T omitted the pertinent fact that Megan made a drink for herself.
Sweet T claimed that he was not drunk. He also said Megan decided she wanted to go to his house. Sweet T claimed that Megan was “outgoing” and “very flirtatious”. Once they got to his house, Sweet T said they had “consensual sex” without him using a condom. He also stated that he did not ejaculate during the encounter. Finally, Sweet T claimed that Megan had stolen his money and car keys at the house.
Sweet T’s second interview on July 2nd lasted 6 minutes and 32 seconds. No questions were asked about the use of a "date rape" drug. By law enforcement standards, the interview was cursory, low-keyed, and even filled with moments of laughter.
Jason Neff advised the investigators that Sweet T was going out of town and that he and Sweet T would speak to them further, if needed, upon their return from a pre-planned, 4th of July extended holiday weekend.
Later that day, Sweet T traveled to the Bunn family’s home on Ono Island, Alabama. He hung out at the beach with his parents, Neff and his wife Christine, and other friends of the family. This trip facilitated Sweet T’s preparation of a third version of the “truth”.
Sweet T’s Third Version of His Sexual Encounter With Megan
Sweet T’s third version of the “truth” was videotaped at the Sheriff’s Department on July 6, 2015. This is the interview where Sweet T talked about playing “hardball” with Megan. He repeated and enhanced the scripted statements he gave to investigators on July 2nd. By now, Sweet T was claiming Megan had stolen one of his credit cards and hundreds of dollars in cash, in addition to his car keys. In truth, Megan only took $3, which she gave to a cab driver who came to pick her up at his house after the incident.
Sweet T confided in Attorney Neff that he would drop the felony “breaking and entering” and “theft of property” charges against Megan, if she would drop her rape charge against him.
Even though Adam Jones bullied Megan throughout her videotaped interview at headquarters on July 2nd, she refused to drop the rape charge against Sweet T. She also would not sign a “Refuse to Prosecute” form that Jones provided to her.
In contrast to the laughter and camaraderie exhibited between the investigators and Sweet T during his interview at the house, there was no laughter or bonding occurring during Megan’s videotaped interrogation by Jones. What is more, Jones re-victimized Megan by casting her as a felony suspect and reading her Miranda rights while Megan was trying to press a rape charge against Sweet T.
Unlike the Incident Report prepared in Megan's rape case at 4:30 a.m. on July 2, 2015 that listed Sweet T’s “Offense” as “Special Inquiry”, the Incident Report prepared on Sweet T’s behalf at 8:29 a.m. that morning listed the “Offense” against Megan as “Theft of Property Second Degree” and “Unlawful Breaking and Entering a Vehicle”.
In a July 6, 2015 police interview, Investigator Josh Hastings helped Sweet T’s clean up his initial lie to investigators that he did not bring Megan to his house. Hastings suggested an innocent explanation for this false statement. Sweet T readily adopted Hastings’ explanation and made it his own. Hastings then ended his ingratiating interview with Sweet T 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.”
Helping Sweet T Escape Criminal Justice
After concluding their “investigation”, Jones and Hastings prepared a “Case Report” that pleased Sweet T and Sheriff Abernathy. According to the report, Megan “never told [Sweet T] to stop or showed any form of earnest resistance”. Then-District Attorney Lyn Head rubber-stamped the report. With that, the “scripting” of this rape case was complete. Megan Rondini’s case had been reduced to a “she said; he said” rape case. Sheriff Abernathy and DA Head sided with the “he said” version.
During the course of the investigation, no one disclosed Terry Jackson Bunn, Sr.’s official relationship with the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Department to Megan Rondini or her family. Likewise, Sheriff Ron Abernathy made no effort to refer Megan’s rape case to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency for an independent investigation. He simply cleaned up this matter in-house.
The rape kit and urine sample Megan taken by hospital personnel to substantiate her rape accusation against Sweet T were never analyzed. These evidentiary items could have buttressed Megan’s version of the sexual encounter from a forensic standpoint. The investigators apparently did not want a scientific answer to the question of whether Megan Rondini was the victim of a drug-facilitated rape. They also did not want Sweet T’s second and third versions of the “truth” undermined by any kind of scientific evidence.
Sweet T “tipped” DA Attorney Lyn Head for a job well done when he sent her a $500 laundered, campaign contribution after his rape case was reviewed by a grand jury and no charges were filed. The Bunn family also made generous, laundered campaign contributions to Lyn Head before and after Megan filed her rape charge against Sweet T.
A depressed and dejected Megan Rondini committed suicide on February 26, 2016. Her purpose-driven life as a respected University of Alabama honors student and beloved daughter and sister changed forever on that dreadful July 2, 2015 morning at Sweet T’s house.
Sweet T stole Megan's joy, spirit, and zest for life. He did not know Megan’s name, age, status in life, or anything else about her. In Sweet T’s eyes, Megan Rondini was truly a “nobody” who was only good for a drug-induced one-night stand.
On the third anniversary of Megan Rondini’s rape report, Sweet T is a free man. He and Jason Barksdale are still cruising Tuscaloosa area bars and clubs in search of young coeds for sexual gratification.
Both men picked up a DUI charge in 2016. Sweet T’s second DUI arrest in three years occurred on the date of Megan’s death. Barksdale’s third DUI arrest in twelve years occurred on May 28, 2016.
Both men are still “best buddies”.
Sheriff Ron Abernathy continues to defend the actions of his investigators in Megan's rape case.
To date, no state or local prosecutor has shown the courage or willingness needed to initiate any criminal charges in connection with the Megan Rondini rape case.
PHOTO: Terry Jackson "Sweet T" Bunn, Jr., (left) and Jason Stephen Barksdale (right) at Innisfree Irish Pub on July 1, 2015, the night these two men changed Megan Rondini's life forever.