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Arizona appeals court upholds assault conviction of ex-UA throws coach Craig Carter
Arizona Athletics

Arizona appeals court upholds assault conviction of ex-UA throws coach Craig Carter

The Arizona Court of Appeals has upheld the 2018 conviction of a former UA track and field coach who choked a student-athlete while threatening her with a box cutter.

Craig Carter is in the middle of a five-year prison sentence. It took a Pima County jury less than three hours to convict the ex-coach of two counts of aggravated assault — one with a deadly weapon — for the 2015 attack on former UA thrower Baillie Gibson. The two had been involved in a sexual relationship for several years leading up to the assault. Gibson has said that the relationship was not consensual, but Carter has maintained that it was.

Carter did not testify during his trial, but Pima County prosecutors played the jury a video of Carter’s recorded confession to University of Arizona police. Also introduced into evidence were voicemails, text messages and emails sent from Carter to Gibson apologizing for the attack and asking her not to call police.

During the trial, Carter’s attorney, Dan Cooper, argued that Carter’s actions that day didn’t meet the statutory definition of aggravated assault, saying that the coach didn’t have time to form intent. Cooper requested a mistrial twice during the three-day trial.

Carter’s appeal was filed by the Pima County Public Defender’s Office, which argued that the judge at Carter’s trial made several decisions that deprived him of his right to a fair trial, including not allowing certain text messages into evidence and giving the jury an improper instruction regarding Carter’s disposal of the box cutter used in the assault.

A panel of judges denied the appeal.

“The state presented overwhelming evidence, apart from (Gibson’s) testimony, to secure the jury’s finding of guilty,” the decision said, mentioning the recorded interview in which Carter confessed to police. “Carter did not recant this admission at trial. Rather, during closing arguments, Carter’s counsel specifically referred to the portion of the interview in which Carter described the attack.”

The judges found that any error in allowing additional evidence regarding the nature of the pair’s relationship was “surely harmless, particularly in view of (Carter’s) own admissions of guilt.”

The appellate court’s decision, along with the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit levied by the Carter’s against Gibson’s lawyer, Lynne Cadigan, marks the end of a more than four-year saga that cost taxpayers several million dollars.

Because Carter was a state employee at the time of the allegations, the state’s risk management division was required to pay for Carter’s defense in a civil lawsuit Gibson filed against Carter and the UA in late 2015. Gibson’s lawsuit said that school officials knew about the relationship but failed to intervene. The lawsuit was settled in April, with the state paying Gibson $999,000. Carter’s attorneys billed more than $2.6 million dollars for their work on the case. Cadigan waived her fees on the case, allowing Gibson to keep the full settlement amount.

Earlier this month, Cadigan and Carter agreed to dismiss the defamation suit with no money exchanged. Cadigan agreed not to write a book about Carter or sell any information about Carter or the case.

“Baillie Gibson is a one of the most courageous young women I have represented. She had the strength to stand up against lawyers who viciously attacked her credibility and character,” Cadigan said, adding that her client was vindicated by the jury’s decision, the settlement and now the appellate court’s decision. “I am very proud she was willing to stand up for herself and finally win the battle. This should encourage more students to come forward and report abuse.”

Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at cschmidt@tucson.com or 573-4191.

Twitter: @caitlincschmidt

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