GEORGETOWN, Del. (AP) — An ex-University of Delaware baseball player accused of a string of sexual assaults was convicted Friday in the first case brought to jurors, who found that he raped a woman he met online but declined to apply the harshest charge.
After a 10-day trial, the jury deliberated for about three hours before finding 23-year-old Clay Conaway of Georgetown guilty of fourth-degree rape. Conaway, who faced a possible life sentence if convicted of first-degree rape, was taken away in handcuffs as friends and relatives wept.
Fourth-degree rape carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, but no mandatory prison time. The charge is defined as intentional penetration with any object or body part without consent. Sentences for this type of offense typically carry imprisonment of between zero and 30 months. Sentencing will take place at a later date.
“The message today is no means no,” Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings said in a statement, adding that Conaway’s accuser “endured needless disrespect and insinuations about her integrity.”
The 21-year-old woman, who cried after the verdict was read, declined to comment as she and her family left the courthouse.
She is among six women whom Conaway, 23, is charged with sexually assaulting between 2013 and 2018. A judge ordered separate trials involving each accuser.
Conaway was charged last year with second-degree rape of five other women in Sussex County, where his family lives. One of those cases was dismissed by prosecutors. Additionally, he faces attempted second-degree rape and strangulation charges involving a fellow University of Delaware student in Newark, which resulted in a complaint filed with the university’s Title IX office. Conaway is scheduled to stand trial again in December in one of the other cases.
The woman in the concluded case testified that Conaway raped her after she drove to his house in June 2018. The encounter happened three weeks after the two connected on the online meeting site Bumble, and he sent her a nude picture of himself.
The woman testified that she was surprised, then anxious and afraid, when consensual cuddling and kissing with Conaway quickly escalated to physical force and violence. The woman told a detective hours after the incident that she repeatedly told Conaway to stop what he was doing.
The defense noted that a three-page chronology she typed up before a second police interview several days later does not indicate that she ever told Conaway “no,” only that she asked him several times what he was doing. Defense attorneys suggested that the woman became angry and upset after Conaway received a phone call and told her abruptly that she had to leave because he was going to the gym with a friend.
Defense attorney Joe Hurley was outraged by Friday’s verdict, saying Conaway’s accuser bears responsibility for what happened.
“In our law, she has to give an indication to a reasonable person, or a reasonable degree, ‘I don’t want this.’ And the easiest way to say that is ‘No!’ with a loud voice,” he said.
“To me, if it was my kid … I’d say it’s unjust,” Hurley added.
A sexual assault examiner testified that she found no visible injuries on the woman, and that she did not tell her she had been strangled or choked. The nurse said the woman, who testified that Conaway put his hand on her throat and choked her, complained only that her right wrist hurt.
Two days after her sexual assault exam, the woman returned to the hospital complaining of hip pain. She was diagnosed with hip strain and told to take ibuprofen.
Prosecutors alleged that the women suffered a hip injury when Conaway pinned her legs up near her shoulders. They needed to prove injury to sustain a conviction for first-degree rape. Jurors declined to convict Conaway on the charge, as well as the charge of second-degree rape, which does not require a showing of injury.