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Former MSU football players accept plea deal in sexual assault case

LANSING, Mich. -- Three former Michigan State football players charged with sexual assault crimes accepted a plea deal in court Wednesday that could keep the trio out of prison.

Josh King, Demetric Vance and Donnie Corley all pleaded guilty to felony charges of seduction in an Ingham County courtroom Wednesday. King also pleaded guilty to an additional felony of surveilling an unclothed person. Neither of those crimes require the guilty party to register as a sex offender.

The seduction felony charge, which was last updated by Michigan lawmakers in 1931, makes it illegal for men to "seduce and debauch any unmarried woman." King, Corley and Vance all had to answer questions in court Wednesday while entering their guilty pleas about whether the woman involved in this case was unmarried and believed to be a chaste woman.

Ingham County prosecutor Carol Siemon said in a statement Wednesday evening that while the law is antiquated, it has been used "consistently, but infrequently" to convince defendants accused of sexual crimes to accept a plea deal.

"The plea to seduction is a tool that we have as prosecutors, but it is an imperfect tool," Siemon said. "It allows the criminal justice system to acknowledge the victim, and it provides an incentive for that offender to plea, in particular because it's not an offense that requires that they register as a sex offender."

Siemon was not present in court Wednesday, but the assistant prosecutor handling the case told the judge that the victim was aware and approved of the plea arrangement.

"We're glad that they admitted their guilt and happy that this part of the proceedings are over," said Karen Truszkowski, an attorney for the woman in the case.

The family of the woman involved in the case issued a statement Friday saying they were upset with Siemon's explanation of the plea deal.

"From the beginning, we have felt that the Prosecutor's office was far more concerned with the future of 3 football players than with the sexual assault of the victim," the family's statement said. "It is one of the reasons that the victim consented to the plea bargain, in addition to her desire for privacy and to avoid being further vilified.

"We certainly hope that the next victim will be respected throughout the process in a way that we were not. For all the talk of change in attitude and culture of the Prosecutor's office, we have seen virtually no evidence of it in action."

Other charges against the former football players were dropped as part of the plea agreement. Prosecutors also agreed to recommend that the former players spend no time in jail. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina can sentence the former players to up to five years in prison, but if she decides to give them any time behind bars when she sentences them in June, the three will have the option to withdraw their guilty pleas.

"It's not over 'til it's over, right?" said attorney John Shea, who represents Corley. "I think if these gentlemen continue to comport themselves as they have throughout this case, I'm optimistic that, yes, this will go down as was described today."

Prosecutors agreed to allow the three men to plead under the Holmes Youthful Training Act, which means the offenses will not stay on their permanent record if they successfully complete a probationary period with no further problems. Aquilina also agreed to allow them to attend college out of state.

The three former players admitted Wednesday to seducing the woman into oral sex at a party in an apartment on Michigan State's campus in January 2017. King also admitted to making a video recording of the woman. Prosecutor Steve Kwasnik said several videos were made and shared with others via SnapChat. Because videos on SnapChat disappear after they are viewed, police were unable to recover most of those videos. Kwasnik said investigators were able to recover and review one of the videos.

When first charging the three men last June, police alleged that King raped a young woman in the bathroom of an on-campus apartment at a party in January 2017. According to court documents, King allegedly pulled the woman into the bathroom, assaulted her and then invited Corley and Vance into the room.

King originally was charged last June with first-degree criminal sexual conduct -- a crime that carries a maximum penalty of life in prison -- along with a third-degree criminal sexual conduct charge and one count of capturing/distributing an image of an unclothed person. Corley and Vance were both originally charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct. Lawyers for all three said last summer that they intended to fight those charges.

Attorney Shannon Smith, who represents King, declined to comment following Wednesday's hearing.

The three former Spartans were dismissed from the university last July at the conclusion of a Title IX investigation that found all three had violated the school's relationship violence and sexual misconduct policy. They were dismissed from the football team a month earlier, on the same day that all three were charged with crimes. Head coach Mark Dantonio said he decided to remove them from the program at that time because their "morals were not where they needed to be."

Shea and Smith, representing Corley and King, criticized Michigan State's Title IX process at the time, saying the university's investigation was "rushed" and "incomplete."

Former football staff member Curtis Blackwell also was found to have violated school policy for the way he handled the incident. Blackwell spoke to the three players and a parent about the assault in January and did not report those conversations to his superiors, according to a report compiled by the Jones Day law firm last spring. Michigan State suspended Blackwell in February 2017 and decided not to renew his contract last May.

The Jones Day report, which was commissioned by the university to determine if members of the football program acted properly in handling this case, found that Dantonio acted properly by immediately alerting the appropriate parties on campus. Lou Anna Simon, who at the time was the university president, said Dantonio was "above reproach" in the way he handled the incident.

The three former players are scheduled to be sentenced on June 6.