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Jury needs just three hours to convict former Arizona Wildcats' track and field coach Craig Carter of assault
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Jury needs just three hours to convict former Arizona Wildcats' track and field coach Craig Carter of assault

It took almost three years to bring former UA track and field assistant coach Craig Carter to trial for choking a student-athlete while threatening her with a box cutter.

A Pima County jury took less than three hours to convict him.

Carter, 50, is facing between five and 23 years in prison after he was found guilty Friday of aggravated assault and aggravated assault with a dangerous instrument.

Carter was taken into custody shortly after 5 p.m. Friday. He’ll be sentenced on May 14.

On April 20, 2015, Carter grabbed former UA thrower Baillie Gibson by the neck and threatened to cut her face with a box cutter he pulled out of his pocket. The two were involved in a sexual relationship at the time, which Gibson maintains was not consensual.

“This has been a long time coming,” Billie Jo Gibson, Baillie’s mother, told the Star on Friday night. “Justice is finally being served.”

During the three-day trial, Carter’s attorneys painted Gibson as a liar who was out for money. Carter kept his head bowed as the verdict was read, shaking his head, while Gibson broke out in a smile.

After being told that he would be taken into custody, Carter pointed to Gibson and muttered something under his breath. Gibson and her mother both began crying, and Carter was escorted out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

The guilty verdict came after a trial that included only witnesses for the prosecution. Carter’s attorneys rested their case Thursday without putting Carter or anyone else on the stand in his defense.

Prosecutor Julie Sottosanti walked the jury through the events on the day in question during Friday’s closing arguments, saying that Gibson wanted out of the relationship but “wasn’t allowed to make those kinds of decisions for herself.”

Sottosanti reminded the jury that in addition to the sexual relationship, there was still the coach-athlete relationship, where Carter wielded significant control over Gibson. Carter first began recruiting Gibson to join the Wildcats when she was a junior in high school, and worked with her daily during the season.

Defense attorneys for Carter brought up inconsistencies in Gibson’s version of events and the nature of her relationship with Carter, but all of that was simply a distraction, Sottosanti said.

“All that matters is what happened in that office,” she said. “This is not a he-said, she-said case. This is a they-said case. This is an everyone-said case.”

Sottosanti again played the video of Carter’s confession to UA police, then reviewed the statutory guidelines for aggravated assault.

Carter “held a box cutter to her face; he told her he was going to cut her up and he did it while he was pinning her down to a couch by her neck,” Sottosanti said. “His version of events line up with hers and both those versions of events make him guilty of these crimes.”

Carter’s attorney, Dan Cooper, said that there was no question that his client did several things that he shouldn’t have done — but violating Arizona law was not one of them.

The statute for aggravated assault requires that Gibson be in “reasonable apprehension” of harm and that Carter acted with intent. Neither of those applied to that situation, Cooper said. Carter didn’t have time to form intent before he grabbed her throat and pulled out the box cutter, the attorney said. And Gibson also didn’t have reasonable apprehension when she went to his office alone that afternoon.

“There’s no reason you have to accept that she had 1 ounce of fear when she went in there, because she didn’t behave that way,” Cooper said.

Cooper repeatedly accused Gibson and witness Julie Labonté of lying on the stand and making up events for a “money grab.” Several months after reporting Carter to police, Gibson filed a civil lawsuit against Carter and the University of Arizona.

“Craig behaved horribly. Whatever price he pays for that, he’ll deal with,” Cooper said. “What he didn’t do is what the state has accused him of doing.”

Cooper then made a second request for a mistrial, which was denied.

The jury had the option of convicting Carter on lesser charges of assault and disorderly conduct were they not able to reach an agreement on the aggravated assault charges.

Carter is still facing another trial on charges of stalking and disruption of an educational institution, in connection with dozens of text messages and emails he sent Gibson after the incident in his office. He later attempted to drag Gibson out of a UA classroom.

In yet another case, Carter is also facing charges of violating a protective order after he allegedly tried to contact Labonté via Facebook and Skype.

It’s unclear if the Pima County Attorney’s Office intends to pursue those charges in light of Friday’s guilty verdict.

Gibson’s mother said she hopes Friday’s verdict will help other victims.

“Don’t keep this in,” she said. “Find some way to stand up for yourself.”

Craig Carter “held a box cutter to her face; he told her he was going to cut her up and he did it
while he was pinning her down to a couch by her neck.” Julie Sottosanti, prosecutor

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


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