HAMMOND, Indiana — A young, blond woman leaned forward in the witness box in the front of the Northern Indiana District Court 7. She wept silently, regularly wiping her nose, mouth and eyes with a small wad of tissue.
Her face was frozen in a cringe, and she sniffed every few moments. Her attorney, Jeffery Macey, walked her out of the room to compose herself, and she returned about 10 minutes later, adjusting her gray blazer and retaking the stand as the jury entered the room.
Nine people sat quietly in the jury box to her left, perhaps considering the decision they will have to make in the coming days. That decision hinges on whether they believe the former Purdue student was raped in her residence hall in 2017.
And that decision hinges on whether she was "incapacitated," which is the basis for whether Purdue would consider the act as rape. Macey described incapacitated as being too drunk to knowingly and willingly consent to sex.
The woman, who is referred to in court documents as Nancy Roe, was expelled from Purdue in 2017 for making what Purdue claimed was a false rape accusation. Under Purdue's false statement rule, students who knowingly make false allegations to the Title IX office can be punished up to expulsion, and Roe was initially expelled.
Roe later appealed the decision, resulting in a two-year suspension rather than expulsion, but Roe never returned. She was denied from multiple universities in Indiana, Macey said in his opening statement. One official told her the university couldn't accept her because of her disciplinary history.
Roe and another plaintiff filed a civil lawsuit in 2018 against Purdue for gender discrimination, violation of the Fourteenth Amendment due process and denial of equal protection by application of "sexually discriminatory policy." It names as defendants the university as well as Vice President for Ethics and Compliance Alysa Rollock and Associate Vice Provost and Dean of Students Katie Sermersheim, both of whom were active in her investigation.
The suit argues that Purdue didn't give Roe due process when it punished her for the alleged false statement. It also argues that Purdue's false statement rule is gender discriminatory because it disproportionately affects women.
"I want to be listened to," Roe said during her testimony Monday afternoon. "I was not treated fairly in this process."
Another woman, called Jane Doe, was originally part of the lawsuit because she was also expelled under unrelated but similar circumstances. Doe settled with Purdue outside of court on Aug. 31, according to the court docket.
Roe, then 19, attended a fraternity party with her boyfriend on April 17, 2017. She was a sophomore, and her then-boyfriend was rushing Acacia Fraternity, so she accompanied him to be supportive, she said on the stand.
While at the party from about 10 p.m. that Monday to about 2 a.m. Tuesday, Roe became extremely intoxicated. Although she testified she doesn't remember how much she drank, Macey said Purdue's investigation indicated she consumed at least 18 Red Solo cups of wine.
She awoke the next morning in her own room, with no memory of how she got there or what happened the night before. She later learned through a series of what she called unusual text messages that she had a sexual encounter with one of the fraternity members that night.
Roe's attorneys argue that she became drunk to the point of incapacitation that night, rendering it impossible for her to consent. But in his opening statement, Purdue attorney William Kealey called her "deceptive" and a willing participant in the sexual intercourse that took place.
Roe said she remembers her boyfriend leaving late that night because he felt sick, but her memory lapsed after that. Kealey said in his opening statement that she went upstairs, looking for the bedroom of the student accused of raping her, referred to in the lawsuit "Student B."
Student B was serving the drinks that night, Macey said, so by Purdue Greek Life rules, he didn't drink any alcohol.
Other members of the fraternity allegedly told investigators Roe was looking for Student B's bedroom and offered to "make out" with one of them if they told her where it was, then she pinned him against the wall and kissed him, Kealey said.
Once she found Student B, she asked him to walk her back to her room in a residence hall across campus, which he did. Kealey showed a security photo of Roe and Student B walking though the lobby, adding that she was "walking under her own power, purposefully." Once in her bedroom, "she could have told (him), 'I think it's time for you to go home.' But she didn't," Kealey said.
Instead, Kealey said, the two got into bed and began having sexual intercourse.
Kealey played a nine-minute audio recording that Student B took during the interaction. In it, Roe's voice sounds slowed and slightly delayed, and she giggles often. She more than once asks him to perform different sexual acts on her, and she asks him to stay multiple times.
Student B's voice is steady and lacking evidence that he was also intoxicated. Roe cried in the courtroom while the recording played.
"I can't describe how it feels," she said on the stand between deep breaths and sniffles when asked about listening to it again.
Anticipating the playing of the audio clip, Macey addressed it in his opening statement, asking the jury to consider how drunk Roe sounded as well as Student B's intention in recording it, especially considering he knew how many drinks he had served her.
Student B allegedly told investigators he expected she would claim rape and therefore wanted to have the recording "for evidence."
Macey noted that Roe had no idea she was being recorded, and he asked the jury how someone could be considered not incapacitated if she wasn't aware she was being recorded.
When Roe woke up Tuesday morning, she didn't remember what happened. She went to her class at 10:30 a.m. still feeling drunk, so much so that she had to leave class to throw up in the bathroom, she said. It was then that Student B began texting her, asking if they were still planning on hanging out that day. Confused, Roe scrolled up, finding texts from the night before that she didn't remember sending.
The texts contained sexually and otherwise explicit language, including Roe saying she wished they could have sex again.
Roe said that because she had no prior relationship with him, she found the texts very confusing. Throughout the exchange, though, she realized what had happened.
She recalled Student B putting his phone number in her phone Monday night, saving his contact as his first name and "Acacia."
"(He) said I would be too drunk to remember his last name," Roe said.
Scared, confused and ashamed, Roe said she agreed to Student B coming over the afternoon, intending to talk about what happened. He confirmed that they had sex the night before, and then they had sex again in her room.
"It would be easier to kill myself if I could tell myself I cheated on (my boyfriend)," she said when asked why they had sex a second time.
"I feel like I blocked everything," she said. "All I remember (from Tuesday afternoon) is how much it hurt. I wanted it to end. I wanted him to leave."
Roe told her boyfriend that she cheated on him as they were leaving another Acacia party Wednesday night. She told him about the incident Monday night, to which he responded, "How could you have consented if you don't remember it?" Macey said.
"There was no way I could have consented," Roe said later. "I was too intoxicated. It wasn't OK that it happened, and he should have known that it wasn't OK that it happened.
"I've tried to justify what happened to me, but I've never been able to."
Roe went to the doctor to complete a rape kit on Thursday. The official report from the assessment said she was found to have bruising on both the outside and inside of her throat as a well as her vaginal area. She said she had trouble swallowing for the next week, even finding herself unable to eat when she went home to visit family that weekend. She said she believes the issue stemmed from when Student B forced oral sex, but Kealey objected, arguing that the nurse never gave basis for the speculation.
That line of questioning was stricken from the record.
Roe recalled more from that night as the nurse questioned her. She said nobody asked her about specifics before, so doing so helped her memory. In the official report, Roe told the nurse that she remembered the following images in only brief moments:
"She remembers 'waking up,' and he was having sex with her."
"She remembers she was kissing him on the couch."
"She remembers (Student B) pushing her head down to perform oral sex."
"She remembers (Student B) pulling her hair from behind."
"She remembers (Student B) choking her from the front with his left hand."
"She remembers (Student B) asking if she had any lubricant."
Her testimony will continue Tuesday morning, and Purdue's attorneys will have the chance to cross examine her. Roe's attorneys will continue to assert that Purdue treated her unfairly.
"Purdue said she lied because she wasn't incapacitated," Macey said. "Even they acknowledged that she had so much to drink."
He said that although Student B was allowed a full investigation, the decision to punish Roe for the alleged lie was made without due process. Instead, Sermersheim "made a call and expelled her."
But Kealey called the due process claim "weak."
"Purdue has a rule, and Ms. (Roe) knew it applied to her. (It's) a rule we all learned in kindergarten: Tell the truth."
The plaintiff will call eight more witnesses, including Sermersheim and Rollock, as well as Roe's then-boyfriend and the two women who led the Title IX investigation.
The defense said it will call Student B and nine others to testify. The defense's questioning is set to begin Thursday morning, and the trial is tentatively scheduled to end Friday.