Corey Brickley for BuzzFeed News. As an honors student at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Megan offered rides to drunk girls walking alone at night, even after one threw up in her backseat. Afterward, instead of going to sleep, she met with law enforcement for an interview. Megan never imagined that she would soon be cast as a criminal, or that investigators would view Sweet T — really T.
Bunn Jr. Bunn insisted he and Megan had consensual sex. His investigation would conclude that no rape occurred. Later, when Megan tried to file a civil suit, she learned the only way to escape possible prosecution for those crimes was to drop her case. Ultimately, Megan and her family decided it was no longer safe for her to stay in Tuscaloosa.
She withdrew from the university before the end of fall semester. Then again, most sexual assault allegations are.
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There are rarely witnesses, and trauma survivors often have fragmented and incomplete memories, which can cause law enforcement without specialized training to be skeptical of their s — especially when alcohol is involved. Megan left Tuscaloosa newly diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. In the months that followed, her depression grew worse, along with her sense of betrayal. Two days later, she hanged herself. Tuscaloosa, population 95,revolves around the University of Alabama, the country's fastest-growing flagship university.
UA is famous for its football team, the Crimson Tide, widely considered not just the best college team in the country but of all time. Most everyone has heard of the Bunns, whose year-old family business, ST Bunn Construction, works on major statewide projects and claims to have paved every street in the city.
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Sonny and Terry, the Bunn brothers who currently run the company, were major donors to former governor Robert J. Bentley, who recently reed rather than face impeachment after he was accused of using state money to cover up an affair with an aide. Terry Bunn, T. Flight records show the Bunn's private jet often touched down near Crimson Tide away games last fall.
Her parents were surprised when she enrolled at the University of Alabama, and even more so when she ed a sorority. The summer before junior year, Megan stayed in Tuscaloosa to take extra classes.
On July 1,she went to the Innisfree Irish Pub for trivia night with a group of sorority sisters. She later told investigators they had spoken only once, when he introduced himself as Sweet T to her and a friend the November. Afterward, they had wondered aloud about the well-dressed guy who offered them beers. Megan, who stood 5-foot-6 and around pounds, had about five cups of beer on July 1, she would later tell investigators — not enough, in her experience, to get that drunk.
Bunn has sandy brown hair, a boyish face, and a preppy wardrobe: The night he picked Megan up, he was wearing khakis and brown alligator shoes. Bunn got his back. Even a chandelier was made of antlers. Bunn put his drunk friend to bed and told Megan to go to his room, she told investigators.
Bunn walked in and told her he wanted to have sex. Bunn brought her over to his bed and pulled her shorts to the side while she looked away from him, she told investigators. She started texting friends around 1 a.
Finally, a friend picked her up. Contrary to what viewers of Law and Order: SVU might think, sex crimes units are still relatively new in police departments. Sexual assault cases rarely make it there, according to data provided by the homicide department on the dispositions of all sexual offenses — not just felonies — reported to it from to As of February, only 10 cases out of 98 sexual assault reports in were heard by a grand jury, and 12 out of from According to Tuscaloosa Homicide Department Capt.
Hood said those cases are investigated just as seriously as sexual assaults, but the examples he gave were ambiguous.
Should this be listed as an assault or did he cut his arm stumbling into his residence? Last November, Hood told the Tuscaloosa News that 27 UA students had reported sexual assaults inbut only two arrests had been made. Widely accepted research has found that the rate of false rape claims is no higher than that of any other crime.
As soon as Megan mentioned the gun, Jones abruptly left the room, video of her interview shows. After that, he changed his course of questioning. For the next few hours, he came in and out of the room with questions for Megan that were about her behavior the night instead of her rape allegations. Not at all, Megan said — it came as a shock — but she gave him her phone to track her movements. They confirmed that Bunn, his friend, and Megan had indeed visited her apartment before going to his place. Studies show that trauma victims often have fragmented memories of assaults.
When confronted with such gaps, police should consider the possibility of drug-facilitated sexual assault, the International Association of Chiefs of Police guidelines explain. Anxious and tired, Megan paced the room alone. At one point, she texted a friend about how Jones seemed upset about the gun. Around 2 p. She wanted there to be a public record of her allegations, she said. Bunn, dressed in khakis and a button-down, brought his lawyer when he came in for his interview with law enforcement the following Monday.
Both men had just returned from a weekend fishing trip. After some high-spirited small talk about fishing — the snappers were biting — Hastings began his questioning. Yes, he had been drinking, but not too much.
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The next thing he knew, police were ringing his doorbell. Two weeks later, Megan got a letter confirming her case was closed.
In August, she hired a lawyer to file a civil suit. But Megan was also terrified.
She stopped going out after she saw Bunn crossing the street. In the fall, a therapist diagnosed Megan with post-traumatic stress disorder, noting that she had no reported history of mental health issues. Instead, the institution she loved made her feel even more alone.
She had no idea that investigators were also updating the university about the concerns law enforcement had with her allegations. Kip Hart wrote in an to UA three days after investigators interviewed Bunn. There was a catch.
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The Rondinis learned the criminal case was back on the table only after they hired an attorney for a potential civil suit. Once they heard Megan might face felony charges, they decided it was best for Megan to drop the civil case, withdraw early from school, and go home to Texas. Her depression and anxiety grew worse as her isolation deepened. There are reforms that make it easier to report sexual assault.
The University of Alabama could strengthen its counseling services; earlier this year, the Rondinis filed a federal complaint against the university for not following up with Megan after Echols recused herself. What is clear is that the more she tried to get help, the more afraid and alienated she became. In s to BuzzFeed News, Capt. Nor, apparently, did the fact that she soon after went to the hospital and told her story to police.
Of course, Megan was never actually found guilty of any crimes: The case against her never made it to a grand jury. But the case against Bunn did — a few weeks after Megan died. The grand jury decided not to prosecute him. Megan would have graduated this summer. Still, when people asked, she said she was going to therapy and trying to move on.
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One question asked if there had been major losses, changes, or crises in her life. Contact Katie J. Baker at katie.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here. A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.
Courtesy the Rondini Family. Cameron Carnes for BuzzFeed News. Video from Megan Rondini's interview on July 2, You never kicked him or hit him or tried to resist him.