By CRYSTAL BONVILLIAN and EMANUELLA GRINBERG
CAMBRIDGE, Ohio (Court TV) — Philadelphia Eagles football player Joshua Sills has been acquitted of kidnapping and raping a woman in Ohio as a college athlete in 2019.
Sills, 25, was indicted Jan. 31 on one count of rape and one count of kidnapping. The jury found the NFL player not guilty of all counts.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office accused Sills of holding a woman against her will in December 2019 and “engaging in sexual activity that was not consensual.” The alleged crime was immediately reported, and the Guernsey County Sheriff’s Office investigated the allegations.
The indictment was handed down less than two weeks before the Eagles unsuccessfully took on the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII. Sills, who joined the team as an offensive lineman in 2021, is currently on the commissioner’s exempt list.
Ahead of trial, defense attorney Michael Connick accused prosecutors of retaliation with the timing of the indictment.
“The timing of presenting the case to the grand jury was intentional and retaliatory to deprive Mr. Sills from participating in an event that is the pinnacle of every National Football League player’s career, a pinnacle very few players achieve,” Connick wrote in court records.
In the state’s opening statement, prosecutor Eric Spitzer said Sills grabbed the woman by the head and forced her to perform oral sex on him “against her will and wishes,” leaving signs of strangulation.
Attorney Michael Connick said in the defense opening that the interaction was consensual and there was no more evidence today of rape than there was in 2019.
Sills, who was facing 11 to 16 years on each felony count, walked freely out of the court with his family around him.
DAILY TRIAL HIGHLIGHTS
DAY 4 – 8/4/23
- Verdict reached: Not Guilty on all counts.
- The defense rests without calling any witnesses.
- The jury hears closing arguments:
DAY 3 – 8/3/23
- Prosecutors rested their case after calling their seventh and final witness, lead investigator Det. Aaron Coulter with the Guernsey County Sheriff’s Office.
- Testifying off camera, Coulter agreed with the defense that M.M. had lied or changed parts of her account since reporting the alleged attack in 2019 – including her admission for the first time on the witness stand to flirting with the defendant at a bar and willingly kissing him in his truck.
- Coulter maintained that M.M. withdrew consent as soon as she said “stop” and that the “best evidence” could be found in the injuries to her body.
- WATCH: NFL Player Rape Trial: Day 3
- Judge Padden denied the defense’s motion for a judgement of acquittal and a separate motion to dismiss the indictment.
- The defense case began with two expert witnesses who disagreed with a sexual assault nurse’s opinion that injuries to M.M. body were consistent with sexual assault and strangulation.
- Testifying on camera as a defense witness, Franklin County Deputy Coroner Andrea McCollom said there was no objective scientific or medical evidence to support M.M.’s strangulation claim, saying she would expect to see more signs of petechiae, or tiny hemorrhaging. She also said it appeared that nurse who examined M.M. was actively looking for evidence to corroborate her claim and overlooked steps she would have taken.
- On cross, McCollom agreed with prosecutor William Walton that strangulation can occur without producing injuries, but she would expect to see something if someone of Sills’ size strangled M.M. – briefly rendering her unconscious – as M.M. claimed.
DAY 2 – 8/2/23
- Judge Padden denied the defense’s request to excuse a juror who reported that a friend told her that Sills’ lawyers were overheard talking about the accuser Tuesday night at the restaurant where the accuser worked. The juror assured the judge it would not affect her opinion of the defense even though she found it odd that they chose to eat there.
- The accuser’s friend, Brooke Bing, teared up on the witness stand as she recalled M.M.’s own tearful account of fighting against Josh Sills and struggling to breathe as he allegedly pinned her down in his truck and forced her to perform oral sex on him.
- Bing said she encouraged her friend to report the incident, but M.M. was afraid no one would believe her.
- On cross, Sills’ defense tried to point out inconsistencies between what M.M. told Bing and other accounts she later gave. Bing said M.M. told her that Sills restrained her legs, but she didn’t complain of being strangled and Bing didn’t see any injuries to her neck or head.
- M.M. didn’t tell Bing that she kissed Sills consensually before the alleged rape she testified on the stand.
- The judge dealt a blow to the state’s case by preventing sexual assault nurse Leslie Doerfler from testifying about enhanced photos of the victim’s neck that informed Doerfler’s opinion that M.M. was strangled. Instead, Doerfler was permitted to use un-enhanced photos showing what she described as “bruising” and “subtle signs of injury” in the accuser’s neck and clavicle.
- Doerfler said other evidence of strangulation on the accuser’s body included ruptured capillaries in her lip, congestion in left eye, bruising on her left cheek and ear.
- On cross, the defense suggested that M.M.’s mother – a nurse who knew Doerfler – tried to influence the case by calling Doerfler before her daughter went to the hospital and told Doerfler that M.M. was sexually assaulted.
- A forensic scientist who examined DNA evidence in the case said Sills’ DNA was consistent with a major contributor profile that was found in a sample on the accuser’s neck.
DAY 1 – 8/1/23
- Special Prosecuting Attorney Eric Spitzer said in the state’s opening that Sills grabbed the woman by the head and forced her to perform oral sex on him “against her will and wishes,” leaving signs of strangulation.
- Defense lawyer Michael Connick said in the defense opening that the interaction was consensual and there was no more evidence today of rape than there was in 2019. Connick accused the state of a “retaliatory” prosecution that came only after Sills achieved a “modicum of success” by getting signed by the Philadelphia Eagles.
- The first police witness to speak to Sills’ accuser said he did not observe or document any injuries to her head or neck indicating strangulation.
- Witness Breanna Woods said she had no concerns about leaving her friend and cousin alone with Sills in his truck after the friend told Woods she’d come inside “in a minute.” Woods and her friend knew Sills from high school and Woods’ friend had invited Sills to join them at a bar that night where the two flirted and kissed. The women showed Sills their breasts in exchange for shots at the bar. They exchanged nervous laughter as Sills grabbed his accuser’s leg on the drive home.
- The next morning, however, Woods said she awoke to find her friend upset over what happened when she was alone in the truck with Sills and showing signs of bruising on the back of her leg.