OPELIKA, Ala.- The case against two former Tiger Transit employees charged with raping and sodomizing an 18-year-old Auburn student will be bound over to a Lee County Grand Jury.
District Judge Steven Speakman made the ruling after nearly two hours of proceedings Wednesday morning.
Before any testimony began, Judge Speakman ruled on the motion made by 32-year-old James Johnson’ attorney, Sherri Mazur. Her motion asked that record be sealed and the courtroom be closed to members of the media to ensure the two men were given a fair trial. Mazur also asked that parties involved in the case not make any public comments to the media. After hearing from both defense attorneys and the state, Judge Speakman denied the motion for a closed courtroom, but ruled that the parties in the case not make comments to the media. However, they can answer questions regarding the date of future court proceedings.
“This courtroom belongs to the people of Alabama,” Judge Speakman said. “I believe there is a compelling public interest to know what is going on in the community, including alleged criminal activity, so I will deny the request to the extent you are asking to seal the record shut or close the proceedings to the media or public at large.”
From there, Sgt. Michael Creighton from the Auburn Police Division took the stand to talk about what happened that September night. Before midnight on Sept. 15, Auburn Police received a call from four people driving in the Aspen Heights Lane area who claimed they saw Patillo with the 18-year-old female victim. They thought something was not right. They kept driving, but turned back around and saw Patillo over the victim with his pants down. They came back one more time and did not see the victim, just Patillo by himself.
Patillo was later taken into custody and denied being the person witnesses saw, but then admitted to it claiming it was wrong. Police made contact with the victim later that same day, and she did not know anything that took place that night. The sergeant told the court that when a rape kit was done, the victim’s DNA was found on Patillo, but his DNA was not found on the victim.
The court learned that earlier that night, the student was placed on the Tiger Transit bus outside Skybar by four individuals so she could be taken home. Johnson then drove the victim to where she needed to go, but she did not get off the bus. Johnson then drove her back to where she was picked up so he could tell his supervisor. Johnson was told to drive her back to her drop off spot, and if she did not get off the bus, paramedics and law enforcement would be contacted.
The sergeant told the court that Patillo heard this conversation and got on the bus.
“One of the first comments he makes is remarking how intoxicated the victim is,” Sgt. Creighton said. Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes said, “More precisely, he says, ‘Ooh, she’s knocked out, ain’t she?'”
After the two had a conversation while standing over the victim who was laying down in the front seat, Patillo sat behind the female and reach over the seat. Soon after, Patillo helps the victim get to the back of the bus. According to testimony, this was caught on the buses cameras. When they get to the back of the bus, Patillo sits across from the victim, and then the lights of the bus go off.
Video from the bus shows Patillo bending over the victim attempting to move her in various positions, and ultimately, the victim’s leg is thrown around Patillo. Later, Johnson gives a signal to Patillo that the lights are about to come on, and another passenger is coming on.
After the lights come on, Patillo sees that the passenger is not paying attention, and Patillo forces the student to perform oral sex on him, and forces her to continue even when she tries to stop.
“There has to be some reason Mr. Patillo is so comfortable to do all of this with Mr. Johnson driving, knowing Mr. Johnson is not going to stop him, knowing that Mr. Johnson is not going to tell on him,” Hughes said. “I submit there was a planned formed at some point. I don’t know if this has been done before- I don’t know, but she was raped, she was sodomized, and Mr. Johnson was in on it.”
Judge Speakman eventually ruled that he found probable cause on Johnson’s first degree sodomy and rape charge, along with Patillo’s first degree rape, sodomy and four counts of public lewdness.
Johnson’s attorney made a motion that his ankle monitor, which is part of his bail, be removed since the cost per month is a financial strain due to his unemployment. Patillo’s attorney asked that he have another chance at bond, perhaps with another ankle monitor company. Both requests were denied.
AUBURN, Ala. — Two former Auburn University bus drivers charged with raping a student on a campus bus back in September go before a Lee County judge.
As News 3 first reported, 51-year-old Tony Patillo and 32-year-old James Johnson, Jr. are both charged with first degree rape and sodomy. Auburn investigators say video evidence from the Tiger Transit bus shows the 18 year old Auburn student being raped on the bus, back on September 15th.
According to court documents obtained by News 3, investigators pulled video footage from Johnson’s bus the night of the alleged attack and saw Patillo having sex with an incapacitated woman in the back of the vehicle. Investigators say Jonhson was driving the bus and acted as a lookout while the assault took place.
After the assault, investigators say Patillo got off the bus and was seen exposing himself while standing over the victim. Someone passing by called 911 and alerted police.
Wednesday, both Patillo and Johnson will appear in court for their preliminary hearings. The district attorney explains a preliminary hearing is the first test of the evidence prosecutors have against the two suspects. From there, a judge will decide if there is enough probable cause to send the case to a grand jury for them to consider indictments.
News 3’s Alex Derencz is inside the courtroom and will bring you the latest developments.