Craig Carter will go to trial this week, nearly three years after the former UA assistant track coach was arrested on domestic violence charges involving a student-athlete.
Carter is accused of choking former UA thrower Baillie Gibson and threatening her with a box cutter. The two were involved in a yearslong sexual relationship; Carter says it was consensual, while Gibson maintains it was not.
The Star does not typically name victims of sexual assault or domestic violence, but Gibson gave permission to publish her name last year. She told the Star then that she was frustrated with the slow progression of the criminal case against Carter, who had recently been allowed to move within hours of her home in Wyoming.
Jury selection for Carter’s trial on charges of aggravated assault and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon will begin Tuesday in Pima County Superior Court. The trial has been rescheduled three times; Carter also rejected a plea deal, and his attorneys successfully lobbied the judge to sever the assault and stalking charges.
The case against Carter
Gibson told police that Carter assaulted her in his office on April 27, 2015, then sent her dozens of text messages and emails over the next several days. Police recovered 57 messages, several of which were threatening in nature.
Gibson told police that Carter choked her with one hand while wielding a box cutter with the other. He told Gibson that he’d cut her “pretty face,” she said.
A few days after the alleged assault, Carter tried to drag Gibson out of a UA classroom. She was able to flee from his grip, court records show. Gibson reported Carter to campus police.
After University of Arizona police officers read Carter his rights, he admitted to the assault, saying, “I think I said, ‘I’ll cut your face up so nobody will ever want you again, because I’m not going to have anything, and neither are you.’”
The UA initiated firing proceedings against Carter on the day he was arrested in May 2015. He resigned before the school had completed his termination.
Carter’s legal battles aren’t just isolated to the criminal court system. Gibson filed a civil suit against the UA and Carter in November 2016, saying that the school failed to protect her from repeated rapes. That lawsuit, which says the Gibson had “no ability” to consent to having sex with Carter, also named as defendants the Arizona Board of Regents, head UA track and field coach Fred Harvey, and former UA athletic director Greg Byrne. Harvey and Byrne have since been dismissed from the suit.
Carter responded by filing a counterclaim against Gibson, saying she caused him emotional distress.
Carter’s criminal trial was originally scheduled for June 2016, then it was pushed to December. The trial was ultimately rescheduled for August 2017.
But after ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” aired a May 2017 episode focusing on Carter’s alleged misdeeds, the coach’s attorney asked that the trial be continued. Dan Cooper cited the “overwhelming negative publicity” from the show and said that he needed more time to prepare his case, as he said there were several inconsistencies between what Gibson told ESPN reporters and what she told police.
Prosecutor Ellen Brown argued that the ESPN interviews dealt with the sexual relationship between Gibson and Carter, which she said was “irrelevant” to the charges filed against the former assistant track coach.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Teresa Godoy vacated the trial date and authorized Cooper to issue a subpoena for the ESPN transcripts. Attorneys for ESPN spent the next several months fighting the release of their transcripts and unaired portions of the interviews, citing the organization’s First Amendment privilege to protect their notes and transcripts.
In October, Carter turned down a plea deal that would have resulted in a sentence of one to four years in prison. At the time, Carter was facing up to 61 years in prison if convicted of all charges against him.
Last month, Godoy granted Carter’s motion to sever the charges in the case. After the assault trial is completed, Carter will likely face a second trial on charges of stalking and disruption of an educational institution.
A costly defense
Carter could also face a jury trial in the still-active civil suit, which has already been fought at considerable expense to Arizona taxpayers.
Because Carter was employed by the UA during the alleged offenses, the state is required to pay for his defense in the civil suit.
As of Jan. 31, Carter’s attorney in the civil case, John Munger, had billed nearly $850,000 in legal fees. The UA was represented for free by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office until November, when it opted to hire private Tucson firm Rusing, Lopez and Lizardi. The private firm billed $105,000 in fees through Jan. 12.
The state can stop paying for Carter’s civil defense if he is found guilty of criminal charges, and could also attempt to recover what taxpayers have already paid.
“It’s very disappointing that the state is paying nearly $1 million to defend a coach that admitted to assaulting a former Wildcat,” Gibson’s attorney, Lynne Cadigan, told the Star.
Last month, Cadigan filed a motion to put the civil suit on hold, saving taxpayers money, until the resolution of the criminal trial. Judge Jeffrey Bergin denied Cadigan’s request Wednesday.
Witnesses in this week’s assault trial will likely include Gibson, former roommate and UA teammate Julie Labonté and two detectives with the University of Arizona Police Department, according to the state’s proposed witness list. The defense hasn’t submitted a witness list, but it’s possible that Carter will testify in his defense.
The prosecution is expected to argue that Carter held power over Gibson as her coach. Carter threatened her when she wouldn’t comply with his demands and when he was confronted in the spring of 2015 with the “imminent loss of control” over Gibson, Carter “spun completely out of control,” prosecutor Jonathan Mosher wrote in a January motion.
“There will be no doubt that (Carter) held the career of this young, female scholarship athlete in his hands,” Mosher wrote.
If convicted on both aggravated assault charges, Carter is facing a prison sentence of five to 23 years.
Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at email@example.com or 573-4191.