Students move past trial

Heather Mangan

Heather Mangan

A month after the not guilty verdict, the student-athletes involved in an alleged on-campus rape continue to pick up the pieces after a year that shook their lives.

The female student continues to defend her account of the case as she proceeds with her education and volleyball career at SDSU. Andre Gilbert, one of the accused, moves on with a new life and basketball career in California. And the other, Mohamed Berte, starts anew by re-enrolling at SDSU this spring semester amid speculation that he may rejoin the men’s basketball team next season.

On Dec. 14, 2006, a Brookings County jury acquitted Gilbert, a former SDSU basketball player and student, on charges that he sexually assaulted a female student in her Binnewies Hall room in December 2005. Gilbert, 21, was found innocent of three felony charges: one count of first-degree burglary and two counts of second-degree rape.

A week later, related charges against Berte, Gilbert’s former teammate, were dropped. Berte, 23, had been scheduled to stand trial this month for aiding and abetting second-degree rape, burglary and sexual contact.

Both men were suspended from the SDSU basketball team in February.

While the legal implications may no longer exist, the incident is far from forgotten as all involved try to move on.

Starting over

With tears in his eyes, Gilbert hugged his family and friends and thanked them one by one after the jury announced his acquittal.

“(His family is) relieved. They are looking forward to closing this chapter,” said Gilbert’s attorney Justin Hyde, speaking on behalf of his client. Gilbert, of Brooklyn Park, Minn., had asked that all questions be directed to Hyde.

Although he wouldn’t comment on the trial, Jackrabbit men’s basketball Head Coach Scott Nagy attended portions of the trial every day, as did several of his assistant coaches and players.

Gilbert is now trying to put the last year behind him by focusing on basketball, Hyde said. The 6-foot-7-inch sophomore is playing basketball for and attending school at Mt. San Jacinto College in San Jacinto, Calif. Despite a shoulder injury, Gilbert recently raked in 13 points for the Eagles, who are 13-11.

“He is more interested in moving forward than dwelling on it,” Hyde said.

Gilbert and Berte were suspended from the Jackrabbit team last February after the female student filed a protection order against the men. No criminal charges were filed against them until June.

Some think their suspension was premature.

“[The administration and athletic department] definitely set a statement. But truth is, you’re innocent until proven guilty,” said Maggie Eilers, a senior athletic training major.

Eilers, a friend of Gilbert and a former Jackrabbit athlete, said he was passionate about basketball and worked hard to generate excitement at SDSU basketball games.

“Regardless (of) what happened, it means he is stronger, and basketball means more to him than other people’s viewpoints,” she said. “Having your reputation as a person and as a player, having that kind of thing stripped all from you, is devastating. To have that all gone, to have to leave, it’s devastating.

“I’m sure now that he looks back, it’s hard to see the good times. I am sure he felt like they (the administration and athletic department) treated him unfairly.”

Rebuilding on broken ground

Gilbert’s acquittal seemed to be a relief to Berte, who sat in the back of the courtroom and prayed as the verdict was read. Less than a week later, Berte had his own good news. Charges against him were dropped on Dec. 20.

Now Berte is enrolled at SDSU after taking the fall semester off. He came to SDSU from the Ivory Coast of Africa.

“The case was dismissed, so there is no reason for SDSU to prohibit Mohamed from enrolling,” said Vice President for Administration Michael Reger.

And speculation has surfaced that he may be rejoining the basketball team.

Coach Nagy would not confirm Berte’s possible reinstatement to the team, but the Argus Leader reported Jan. 23 that the senior may return for the 2007-08 season. Nagy would only say Berte is not currently a member of the team. Berte, who has been seen at team practices, did not respond to The Collegian’s attempts to contact him.

Berte’s classmate, Caitlin Monahan, a junior French major, said he told her in casual conversation that he would “probably” play during the 2007-08 season.

SDSU doesn’t have a specific policy regarding suspension and resuming play, Reger said.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Reger said. “There is nothing that I know of that would prohibit him from playing if the coaches and athletic department decide that is appropriate.”

Before his suspension, the 6-foot-8-inch center played in only 20 SDSU games, in which he averaged 8.5 points and 7.2 rebounds. If he were to return, Berte could possibly receive one of the team’s two open scholarships.

“He deserves to be able to come back and play,” Eilers said.

Staying Strong

Moments after the verdict was read, the alleged victim quietly left the courtroom with her family. Outside, she was hit hard with reality.

“I couldn’t believe it. My stomach just dropped,” she said in an interview four weeks after the trial. “I pretty much made it out of the courtroom and collapsed. I just really didn’t think it was going to go that way.”

The female student, still distressed by the verdict, was nervous to return to school this semester.

“It’s very hard to be here,” she said. “No matter the verdict, I would still be getting looks.”

But she came back for the same thing that brought her to SDSU – volleyball.

“If I wasn’t playing volleyball and this happened, I wouldn’t be here,” she said.

Volleyball Head Coach Andrew Palileo and a few volleyball players attended parts of the trial. The student-athlete said many of her teammates and coaches urged her to come forward about the incident and have remained supportive throughout the year.

“If I didn’t have volleyball, I don’t know what I would be doing,” said the non-scholarship athlete.

She said the verdict and death of a family member have made the last month difficult. But she remains optimistic.

“I was very strong before, but I can’t imagine what I will be once I get out of this funk,” she said.

For daily coverage of the trial, go to

#1.883879:1034748049.jpg:berte, mohammed_action.jpg:Mohamed Berte, 42, drives up court in this undated photo. Charges against Berte were dropped and he may be rejoining the basketball team.: