Inside the Nate Parker Rape Case
The Daily Beast delves into Birth of a Nation filmmaker Nate Parker’s college rape trial—and speaks to the family of the alleged victim, who committed suicide a decade later.
It was no simple wave.
Minutes after bringing down the Sundance Film Festival house with the world premiere of Birth of a Nation, filmmaker Nate Parker invited the “family” of cast and crew (most had tears in their eyes) onstage for helping him land his eight-year opus on the silver screen.
During the Q&A, Parker realized he had missed someone.
“Jean? Where’s Jean? Come here,” he said, waving his right hand that held the mic.
Jean was Jean Celestin—Parker’s former Penn State roommate and wrestling teammate. The bearded, bespectacled man took his place next to Parker and was praised for co-writing and developing the film about Nat Turner’s slave rebellion that is already an Oscar favorite.
They stood there, soaking up the splendor.
But that wave. Celestin had perhaps seen it before.
It was back in August 1999, when Parker allegedly waved Celestin into his bedroom as he was having sex with a Penn State freshman, according to court testimony.
Celestin and his friend, Tamerlane Kangas, idled in the doorway, and Parker reportedly gestured for them to come join. Kangas testified that Celestin obliged, disregarding a warning from him: “No, you don’t want to go inside that room.”
And in less than 30 minutes, the lives of two young men and one young woman changed forever.
State College police were convinced that night didn’t just involve casual sex and two months later, prosecutors brought charges against Celestin and Parker for rape and sexual assault.
The Daily Beast reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents, in which cops accused the young men of accosting “Jennifer” while she was allegedly unconscious. (The Daily Beast is using a pseudonym for the alleged victim to protect her family.)
Parker and Celestin did not return messages left by The Daily Beast asking for comment on this story.
The former wrestlers admitted to having sex with the 18-year-old scholarship student—they claimed it was consensual—and Celestin also admitted he never wore a condom.
But both men faced up to 50 years behind bars and a bleak end to their college careers.
Parker has pegged the incident as one of his darkest chapters.
“Something like that turns you into a man real fast. It teaches you the world doesn’t owe you anything,” Parker told the Virginian-Pilot in 2007, after starring alongside Denzel Washington in The Great Debaters. “If I had it my way, it never would be brought up again.”
Parker and Celestin, both 19 at the time of the alleged rape, were tried together in a swift October 2001 trial. Neither of the men testified. Parker was acquitted on all charges. Celestin was convicted of sexual assault, only to have the charge overturned four years later when a Superior Court judge ruled his trial attorney was ineffective in defending him.
As award season nears, the rape trial still haunts both men—particularly since one of the most powerful scenes in Birth of a Nation involves the brutal rape of Nat Turner’s wife.
In his interview with Deadline Hollywood, Parker unequivocally condemned sexual violence and rape culture. “The fact we are making moves and taking action to protect women on campuses and off campuses, and educating men and persecuting them when things come up… I want women to stand up, to speak out when they feel violated, in every degree, as I prepare to take my own daughter to college,” he said.
As for the alleged victim, she was ready to testify all over again when Celestin’s attorneys managed to get him a second trial in 2004. But prosecutors felt that tracking down all the former witnesses would be impossible and let the case drop.
Parker and Celestin moved on, starting down their long road to Hollywood fame. And Jennifer, a former 4.0 student, started down a very different path—becoming suicidal, dropping out of college, and wrestling with years of depression, mental health struggles, and addiction. In 2002, she found a bright spot of happiness, giving birth to a baby boy. But then, 11 years after the trial, Jennifer killed herself by swallowing close to 200 pills. She was only 30 years old.
(UPDATE: After The Daily Beast published this story, and after Variety released its exclusive interview with the alleged victim’s brother, Nate Parker responded with a statement, which can be read here, noting he was devastated to hear of the woman’s death.)
Jennifer’s “date” with Nate Parker was to take place on Aug. 20, 1999.
According to Jennifer’s testimony, Parker had asked her out and she suggested the Silver Screen Grille, a restaurant inside the local Days Inn hotel. (In his police statement, Parker said it was Jennifer who invited him out instead.)
It was a Friday, and a Latin band was performing. Parker had asked Jennifer to bring a friend for his roommate—but when that girl couldn’t make it, Jennifer showed up stag.
She arrived at 10 p.m. and waited for Parker alone at a table near the bar. After a while she called him from a payphone. No answer.
A waitress later testified at trial that she took pity on Jennifer and asked if she wanted anything. “She had nothing in front of her and she was smoking heavily and I believe I took her a glass of ice water.
“I emptied her ashtray and asked her what was wrong, and she said she thought she was stood up… she looked extremely sad,” the waitress said.
A construction worker in his forties eventually sidled up to Jennifer and plied her with four or five Sex on the Beach cocktails that night.
“He was just making innuendoes. He was hitting on me,” Jennifer said.
She grew uncomfortable and flagged an acquaintance to save her—Rugigana Kavamahanga, who had classes with Parker.
Kavamahanga, who had been drinking rum and cokes, admitted at trial he kept the drinks coming, buying multiple rounds of Sex on the Beach cocktails. “She said the guy bought her like four or five drinks,” he testified. “I bought her like two drinks, I think.”
Admittedly tipsy himself, Kavamahanga thought he might get lucky with Jennifer. “I asked her if she wanted to come back and she wanted to.” (Kavamahanga did not return Daily Beast requests for comment.)
The more Jennifer sipped, the hazier the night became.
“I know there was a lot of time passing because Rugigana left me to sit there for quite a while by myself while he was getting the drink,” Jennifer testified.
Parker finally arrived around midnight.
Members of the band AfriCaribe were breaking down their instruments.
Jennifer, Parker, and some friends headed to Kavamahanga’s pad, where Jennifer says she poured and then downed a shot of rum. She sat on Parker’s lap and “from there I don’t remember a whole lot,” she testified.
“I don’t remember conversation. I don’t remember who was in the room. I don’t remember how many people were in the room. I just know I was there,” she said.
At one point, Jennifer told Parker she wanted to go home. “Nate said I was too drunk to go to my dorm and that I’ll get in trouble if I was on campus being that intoxicated so, therefore, we agreed to go back to his place and he said I could take his room to sleep,” she testified.
Jennifer’s level of intoxication became an issue at trial and witnesses told different stories on whether Jennifer appeared blackout drunk, as she claimed—or just inebriated.
Parker told cops Jennifer was all over him and asked to go to his place. He said Jennifer appeared sober at Kavamahanga’s apartment and had no problem walking to his apartment after his friend Tamerlane Kangas drove them there, according to an interview with Detective Chris Weaver.
A friend of Jennifer’s, Melissa Mendez, testified that she received a call from Jennifer at 1 a.m., asking for a place to crash. “Her roommate had her parents over and she didn’t feel comfortable staying at her place,” said Mendez, who told Jennifer her parents were also at her place, but invited Jennifer to stay there if she wished.
“She said that was okay. She was going to go to a friend’s place,” Mendez said.
The prosecutor asked how Mendez knew Jennifer was drunk. “She wasn’t really making that much sense... she was talking very loud,” Mendez replied, adding that Jennifer was slurring her words.
Kavamahanga testified that Jennifer was a “six [or] seven” on a scale of one to 10—one being sober and 10 being passed out.
In a November 1999 statement to police, Kavamahanga also noted Jennifer was “coherent but noticeably drunk.” At the trial, the defense introduced some doubt on his testimony, asking Kavamahanga whether his memory of that night “slack[ed] off” because he had four to five rum-and-cokes before arriving at Silver Screen. He admitted, “Yes.”
Another mutual friend, Courtney Jordan—who had introduced [Jennifer] to Parker—testified that Parker “told me that they were drinking wherever they were and… he said that Jennifer was drinking and she was, you know, intoxicated.”
Asked for Parker’s exact words, Jordan replied he was told Jennifer “was extremely intoxicated.”
Meanwhile, Tamerlane Kangas testified that after the group arrived at Parker and Celestin’s apartment, he noticed Jennifer “shuffled her heel” on a step heading to the building. “You better watch your girl,” Kangas recalled warning them.
Jennifer then “said that she would be fine,” Kangas testified.
Jennifer remembered someone steadying her as she ambled into the hallway to Parker’s apartment. “I remembered your roommate holding onto me, like my arms, and I was walking down the hall and I guess I was running into doors,” she said in a phone call to Parker and Celestin that was recorded by police.
Celestin flatly denied that he’d had to assist Jennifer that night.
“OK, well, sorry, it wasn’t me then,” he told Jennifer during the recorded phone call. “You must have an imaginary friend.”
Parker also told the school’s disciplinary board, in a written statement, that Jennifer was pretty sober when they arrived at his apartment.
“She must have an imaginary friend who carried her because Jean saw her walk calmly down the hall,” Parker wrote. “I also saw Jennifer walk calmly down my hall by herself from the elevator.”
In court testimony, Jennifer recalled peeking into one bedroom in Parker’s apartment, where two people were watching TV. She said she then entered another room, changed into a T-shirt someone handed her, and fell asleep in a bed.
But Celestin told police Jennifer was flirting with him as she admired the apartment’s decor: two painted portraits of Parker and Celestin hanging on the wall. He said she then went into his room and tested his bed, saying “Your bed is comfi [sic] too.”
“Where is Nate?” Jennifer asked, before heading to Parker’s bedroom, according to Celestin’s account.
Celestin claimed that Jennifer led him into Parker’s room and Kangas simply left the three alone. Celestin claimed Jennifer knew he was behind her. Parker and Jennifer started having sex, Celestin said, and he decided to join in when Jennifer allegedly reached around and touched him.
“…I started to touch her and then we all started having sex,” he wrote in his statement to police.
Parker later insisted to Jennifer that he never took advantage of her that night or the morning after.
“You were all for it, you know what I mean,” he said. “It’d, it’d be different if you were just laying there, but you weren’t. You were active, you know what I mean?”
But one other person in Parker’s apartment that night—Tamerlane Kangas, who had joined the Air Force as a lieutenant by the time of the trial—told a radically different story in court testimony. (Defense attorneys implied Kangas was bullied into testifying against his friends to save himself from prosecution.)
Kangas’s recollection differs from those of the wrestlers: Parker’s bedroom door was open, he testified, and Kangas and Celestin both peered inside and saw him on top of Jennifer having sex. The room was dimly lit by a blue-colored bulb fixed above the futon.
Parker noticed them and “motioned for us to come inside the room,” Kangas testified.
Kangas said Jennifer didn’t see them or say a word. Her arms weren’t moving, he said; her legs were pressed to her chest, her feet propped in the air.
“We went out into the hallway and Jean said, ‘Let’s go inside the room,’ and then I said, ‘No, you don’t want to go inside the room,’ and then after that we went back into the doorway and he walked into the room,” Kangas testified. “Shortly after that—or he got undressed and stood towards the head side of the futon and shortly after that I left.
“I personally didn’t go into the room because I wasn’t attracted to Jennifer and I didn’t believe that four people at one time was—you know, it didn’t seem right,” the Air Force officer added at the trial.
Kangas testified that he never saw Jennifer and Celestin interacting or flirting that night.
Kangas told The Daily Beast on Monday he moved on with the Air Force and lost touch with both Parker and Celestin.
He was stunned to learn of Jennifer’s demise.
“Oh my god,” he said. “I’m so sorry. That’s awful.”
Kangas told The Daily Beast that he fled from the apartment that evening.
“I made a decision not to stay,” he said. “The whole situation in general, whatever was going on, was just not me. It’s just not who I am.
“I just felt like it was a bad place to be and I didn’t want to be there,” Kangas added. “I took myself out of the situation.”
In a written statement to Penn State’s disciplinary board, Celestin had claimed that he and Jennifer had “talked several times that night. We had sex together that night. I knew Jennifer hadn’t been drunk.”
But at trial, Jennifer said she had no recollection of speaking to Celestin at all. She didn’t even know his name until police told her, she said. “I just remember opening my eyes and seeing Nate having intercourse with me. It was just a split second. And then awake again and… somebody just on top of me other than Nate,” she testified.
“When it was somebody other than Nate, I said, ‘Where is Nate?’ I don’t know what the answer was.”
It’s a memory she grappled with in the police-recorded phone call with Parker. “I didn’t know the other guy, either,” she told him.
Parker replied that he wouldn’t have let another man have sex with her that night had he known she was so intoxicated. “You say that you don’t know me,” he said. “I really would not have let any of that happen, you know what I’m saying?
“Because I’m not that type of person, I don’t, I have sisters, and I would not want that to happen to any of them.”
Parker later added, “It’s like, I don’t know, if a guy walks into a room, or if a guy is messing around with a girl, and her friend comes in, and she’s all over him, and she, and, the guy’s all over him back, I don’t see anything wrong [with] that.”
Celestin “was pretty much in there the whole time,” Parker told Jennifer.
When Parker assured Jennifer they hadn’t taken any pictures, she asked if the “other guy”—identified in court as Kangas—had watched the three of them.
“No, I told you he left. He dropped us off,” Parker told her.
This is where Parker’s statements conflicted with Kangas, who testified that he saw Parker and Jennifer having sex—and that Parker waved both him and Celestin into the room to join in.
“There was a smirk on his face, I guess, because, you know, he caught us watching him and so that’s when he motioned for us to come in,” Kangas recounted to the prosecutor.
Kangas said he resisted the invitation and warned Celestin to steer clear.
“Because I figured that Jennifer was there for Nate and not, you know, Nate and Jean,” Kangas said. “I didn’t want him to interrupt what they were doing in the room.”
The following day, Nate Parker spoke to Kangas and asked if Jennifer had left her cigarettes in his car.
“He said that Nate and someone else had sex with her the night before and that she had thrown up in the hallway and the bathroom of their apartment and Nate made Jennifer clean it up,” Kangas testified at the trial.
“He said that they ‘hit it,’” Kangas added.
Lost on the slang, the Pennsylvania prosecutor asked: “Hit it?” and Kangas explained, “That’s slang for having sex with her.”
When Jennifer came to that morning, she testified, she was naked and alone.
She remembered getting up to go home, then being in a bathroom and having cold water splashed on her face, she said at trial.
“There was nobody in the room,” Jennifer testified. “I put my clothes on because I was completely naked and I’m like, ‘Oh, shit, I’ve just been raped,’ and I get up to go home and then the next thing I know is I’m in the bathroom…”
She remembered Parker holding a lit cigarette to her mouth. She smoked it and went back to bed.
“Upon waking we again had intercourse,” Parker wrote in his statement to cops. “She was awake and did not show any signs of discomfort.”
But Jennifer claimed the intercourse inflicted more harm on her.
“I woke up the next morning with Nate having sex with me again,” she testified. “I remember being in a lot of pain.”
Jennifer tried to conduct a campus tour that morning, but she was in “the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. I mean I felt like my whole vagina was torn into pieces,” she stated at trial.
She cut short the tour. “I was in too much pain, I couldn’t walk, and I came home, showered again and slept,” she testified.
The entire night before was a blur, she claimed.
She realized her student ID and cigarettes were missing, she testified. Kavamahanga told Jennifer on the phone she could retrieve her ID at his apartment.
Jennifer and some friends returned to Kavamahanga’s to retrieve her identification and smokes. They sipped some wine coolers, and Kavamahanga noticed Jennifer was distraught.
“I said I just didn’t appreciate men sleeping with a woman when she is passed out,” Jennifer testified.
“I’m tired of white bitches crying rape,” Kavamahanga allegedly replied, according to Jennifer’s testimony.
Neither Parker nor Jennifer dispute that he rang her repeatedly for days, but Jennifer didn’t return the calls.
A week or two after the night in question, Kavamahanga testified that he asked Parker what had really happened.
“[Nate] said that he and a friend ran a train on Jennifer,” Kavamahanga told the court. While none of the attorneys asked for clarity, to “run a train” is parlance for multiple men waiting in line to have sex with the same woman.
Kavamahanga added that Parker believed Jennifer was “basically lying” and said, “she consented.”
Jennifer’s doctor, Ann Shallcross, treated the undergrad on Sept. 7, 1999 for abdominal pain and an abnormal vaginal discharge.
She remembered Jennifer, in particular, because she cried throughout the appointment and said she’d been sexually assaulted.
The doctor testified Jennifer had “prominent blood vessels” in her upper cervix, which “could be related to inflammation… from infection or some type of trauma.”
While Shallcross did not specify what kind of alleged trauma could cause Jennifer’s symptoms, she said her assessment was that “the abdominal pain that she was having was very suspicious [and possibly] related to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease,” a complication of some sexually-transmitted infections.
Shallcross prescribed Jennifer antibiotics, talked with her about HIV testing, and stressed the importance of seeing a counselor. Shallcross added a nurse gave the freshman a Guide for Sexual Assault Victims pamphlet before sending her on her way.
“The nurse noted that she was tearful and that she had reported to the nurse that she had been very tense, anxious recently,” the doctor testified.
An attorney for Celestin, Mark Lancaster, asked Shallcross at the trial whether Jennifer had been taking any medication, court transcripts show. He appeared to be laying the groundwork for another issue at trial: Did a mixture of booze and Prozac cause Jennifer to black out?
Joseph Devecka, Parker’s lawyer, also asked if Jennifer had mentioned any other sexual partners between Aug. 21 (the morning of the alleged rape) and her visit.
Shallcross replied, “No.”
“Does that mean she actually did not have any sexual partners or that she told you she didn’t?” Devecka asked.
“She did not report any sexual activity,” Shallcross said.
One week later, when Jennifer first confronted Nate Parker about the night of the alleged rape—on a phone call she surreptitiously, and illegally, recorded—the student athlete assured her that no one else had been in the room.
“So. Was it that you… was it that you had fucked me that night or was it that somebody else that fucked me that night, ’cause I really need to know this, Nate,” Jennifer probed.
“Ohhhh. That was a long time ago,” Parker replied during the 2 a.m. call that Jennifer recorded on a mini-cassette tape on her answering machine.
Jennifer kept pumping him for a name.
“Yeah and you told me that nobody else did [have sex with me] but I need to know,” she said, adding that she’d slipped in and out of consciousness and how she’d seen a second mystery man having sex with her.
“’Cause I remember waking up and seeing somebody else fucking on top of me and me asking where you were…” she continued.
“Jennifer, you are so full of shit,” Parker countered. “I don’t know what you’re trying to pull now but we’ve already went through this.
“You pretty much did admit it that you were awake and now you’re saying…”
“No,” she hit back. “You know. You know I was passed out, Nate.”
When Parker wouldn’t admit to her that a second man had been in the room that night, Jennifer decided to fake a pregnancy scare, forcing Parker to finally come clean four days later during another long phone call—this time, recorded by State College cops, who had acquired a warrant to intercept it. In the call, a tearful Jennifer struggled to get Parker to put the other man on the phone; after all, she said, she didn’t know “whose baby it is in the first place.”
“Well, it was only, you know what I mean, the only person, people, who was there was me and the person that I was with that night when we met, my roommate,” Parker said, trying to calm her down. He added, “I understand, I’m sorry, uh… now looking back on it we can both say that it was just unnecessary, none of it should have happened anyway, you know what I mean?”
Parker eventually handed the receiver to Celestin, who apologized to Jennifer. “Umm, well, I’m sorry, like, you know, I really don’t know what I’m apologizing for,” he told her. “But um, like, as far as like, if anything offended you, and you got hurt, you know, like, I’m sorry.”
On the call, Parker insisted to Jennifer that she had been an active participant in the sex. “Because, we were all hanging out together and then me and you started doing stuff and… then me and you eventually started having sex or whatever and he was still there, and you know what I mean, it started happening and you didn’t stop it, you know what I mean?”
Parker added that the sex the next morning had been very special for him.
“I mean the next day, you know, like you said, the next day when were were still, when we had sex again, you know what I mean, I really, I really enjoyed myself, I really had a good time with you. I really really did. I really, and um, that’s from the heart,” he said.
When Jennifer first met Nate Parker, she’d liked him.
Penn State was her escape from a rough childhood: her parents divorced when she was 11, and her mother struggled to care for four children alone. Jennifer and two siblings were sent to separate foster homes by the time she was 15.
But Jennifer was determined to rise above it. She skipped 11th grade and entered the university early, majoring in special education.
In fact, she had already matriculated during the spring of 1999, having logged a semester on the books before the other incoming freshmen moved into their dorm rooms.
That’s when she met Parker through their mutual friend, Courtney Jordan. Jennifer found the grappler attractive and gave him her phone number before summer classes ended, she later testified.
The champion wrestler from Norfolk, Virginia, rang her at her biological mother’s home during the break before fall semester.
Jennifer testified that Parker called and asked her to sleep over at his house on Aug. 18. Parker, in the phone call intercepted by cops, confirmed that he’d pursued Jennifer. “How [did] we even start hanging out anyway?” Parker said. “What did I do? I called you at your house, right?
“Several times, right… To hang out didn’t I?”
Jennifer claimed Courtney Jordan told her to steer clear of Parker. “Don’t do it. He’s a dog,” Jordan said, according to Jennifer’s testimony.
Reached by The Daily Beast, however, Jordan remembered it differently. He never said Parker was “a dog,” he said, but maintained he was friends with both Parker and Jennifer. “Nate was cool and [Jennifer] was cool… My only role was introducing those two,” he said. “Me, personally, I was saying ‘be careful.’”
Parker and Jordan were both athletes (Jordan ran track) and came from Virginia.
“Nate was my boy, so I would say that to anybody,” Jordan said. “That ‘You’re an adult, don’t do anything stupid.’”
Parker and Jennifer first hung out when she agreed he could help in her dorm room as she moved in. It was the day before their fateful date.
The dorm room was “my territory, that if anything happened, you know, I could let him go,” Jennifer testified at the trial. “I mean I have the right to make him leave. It’s more comfortable that way.”
As she unloaded boxes, Parker lounged on her bed and called her over to “sit beside him.” He asked her to try on a red dress but she put it away.
He started rubbing and kissing her neck, she testified.
Then he pulled down her underwear. “I pulled them back up and I said, ‘No, I do not know you that well yet,’ and instead I performed oral sex on him,” Jennifer testified.
She testified that she didn’t want to go all the way but she “didn’t want to leave it at nothing.”
“I’m not proud of it, but I saw it [oral sex] as being safer and not as big an issue,” the former student said in court.
She appeared to see a future with the handsome athlete.
In a phone call, she told him, “I really liked you, I trusted you, you know, I didn’t… understand how you could have… done this to me.”
Parker claimed in the police-intercepted call that he’d had feelings for Jennifer, too.
“I was interested in you, and you know that,” Parker stressed, adding, “I honestly thought that [the sex with Celestin] would be something that the next day that we just, it wouldn’t even bother us, you know? I really didn’t think that it would be a big deal at all, you know?”
He later continued, “I’m not going to be, like, ‘No, you’re mine, and I don’t want you even to mess around with anybody else,’ you know what I mean?
“If I would have known you, for, let’s say I’d known you for a year, and I know that you’re this girl that’s strictly in relationships, that never does anything like that… then you, you come over, I’m not going to let anything like that happen because I know who you are,” Parker added.
“But if I don’t know you, and you’re giving me the vibe that you’re cool with it… I’m going to assume you’re fine. You know? I’m going to assume that nothing’s wrong. And that’s what I did.”
Parker and Celestin arrived for an interview at the police station on Oct. 18, 1999—five days after Jennifer reported the alleged rape to State College cops.
Detective Chris Weaver spoke to Celestin first. He asked Celestin how he knew Jennifer consented. “Did she look at you? Did she wink at you? Did she do anything?” Weaver asked.
“No, it just happened,” Celestin replied, according to Weaver’s trial testimony.
Then Weaver asked how Celestin knew whether Jennifer “was all right” after the sex. Parker’s teammate said he “asked her if she was okay,” and that she replied, “I’m okay. I just need a cigarette,” Weaver recalled at the trial.
Parker was up next. He told cops he woke to find Jennifer throwing up in his bathroom. Parker said he rubbed her back, cleaned up the vomit and tucked her back into bed, Weaver testified.
Parker allegedly told the cops that he didn’t see Jennifer as girlfriend material.
“I don’t know how to explain this to you, but she is not the kind of girl that I would date,” Parker said, according to Weaver’s testimony.
Detective Weaver asked Parker why, then, he’d asked Jennifer out on a date that night.
“I guess I thought something would happen,” Parker replied.
Detective Weaver testified that Parker told him, “What we did wasn’t right and it should not have happened.
“It was wrong and I used poor judgment,” Parker allegedly added, “but three people were wrong and three people used poor judgment that night.”
About five weeks after the alleged rape, Celestin and Parker approached two mentors about Jennifer’s supposed pregnancy, according to a written statement Nate Parker submitted to Penn State’s disciplinary board. The wrestlers hoped their life coaches “could give us some advice about Jennifer’s surprise.”
Brian Favors worked at the athletic department and Coach Kerry McCoy had recruited Parker to become a Nittany Lion, later staying on as a volunteer after a new coaching guard led by Troy Sunderland took over the program.
Parker told McCoy that a fling from two months prior had landed the guys in hot water. Parker told his mentor “for some reason she says she doesn’t remember the evening,” according to his statement to the university.
“She knew everything that went on that night,” he told McCoy.
The coach allegedly told Parker to “be very nice to [Jennifer] when she called again,” Parker wrote, and to “try to find out just what she wanted from me.”
McCoy, who is black, suggested that Jennifer, who was white, may have been falsely crying rape because she didn’t want to admit that she’d slept with a black man.
“These things come up from time to time with girls who feel guilty about what they did before, or may even find themselves pregnant with a multiracial child and rejected by their parents,” McCoy said, according to Parker’s statement.
On the stand, McCoy denied telling Parker and Celestin to find out Jennifer’s motivations. Instead, he claimed he told them, “You just have to wait and see what happens.” The prosecutor pressed McCoy on whether he advised both athletes to “find out what she wants.” He denied saying that.
When reached by phone Friday, McCoy told The Daily Beast he’s in touch with Parker and Celestin regularly and that “everybody’s moved on” from the criminal case. “I was just there for support,” he added of the trial.
McCoy, who declined to speak in detail on the rape allegations, and said he had “no clue” the alleged victim had died.
The second mentor, Brian Favors, reportedly told Celestin and Parker his primary concern was making sure the athletes were “okay,” and told them to “pray for this girl and pray about the situation.”
Like McCoy, Favors also instructed Parker and Celestin to “find this girl and to find out what she wanted and treat to her nicely,” according to Parker’s written statement to the school. Favors later denied saying that at trial. He said, “I wouldn’t even say ‘find out what she wanted’… my advice was talk to her, you know, and also if she says—if there is—you know, if you have reason to believe she is pregnant, whatever the case you need to talk to her and find out what is going on.”
Favors told Celestin, “This is serious” before they “prayed together,” according to Celestin’s statement submitted to the university’s disciplinary board.
“Yeah, we talked,” Favors later testified. “I know that the gist of it was, we need to pray and… the sentiment was, you need to talk to her and find out what is going on, you know, why is it she is making these accusations against you.”
Favors was displeased that the cops had allegedly questioned his grapplers for hours. The young men “were grilled for five, six hours,” Favors testified at trial, adding that he believed the detective had “them both talking about the ways that, you know, they tried to pit one against the other.”
Accusations of Weaver pressuring Kangas and raising his voice at Celestin and Parker were introduced at trial.
Weaver admitted that he went to Kangas’s ROTC officer after Kangas claimed to see nothing that night. The cop also testified that he told Kangas he could face criminal charges if authorities discovered he falsely wrote a statement saying it was everything he knew.
Weaver finally got Kangas to talk in a third interview in January 2000. A state trooper helped Weaver interview Kangas, Weaver testified.
At an October 1999 preliminary hearing, Weaver spotted Kangas again as he sat in the jury room as a subpoenaed witness for the defense. “I told him… if he thinks he’s being threatened now, to continue in his course of conduct and see what will happen,” Weaver testified at trial.
“I basically told him I was in the mind-set that I was going to arrest him for lying and false reports,” the cop added.
Weaver denied he yelled or got angry with Parker and Celestin. “Actually, I would characterize these two interviews as probably two of the more calm interviews I’ve ever had,” Weaver testified.
Devecka asked whether Weaver recorded his conversations with Parker and Celestin. He answered no.
“So we can’t tell, one, whether you yelled at Mr. Parker and raised your voice… and two, we can’t tell whether he ever said what you wrote in your report, can we?” Devecka inquired.
“Other than from my testimony, no,” the detective responded.
In his statement to the university, Parker claimed Weaver told him that he was a former collegiate athlete himself and knew the temptations to sleep with a “sports groupie.” He also claimed the detective then threatened him, “You wrestlers for the past 10 years have raped and battered this whole town. I’m going to get you.”
During trial, Favors said the wrestlers told him Detective Weaver accused him of “fostering criminal behavior” by giving the athletes advice.
When Weaver requested a statement from him, Favors said he was concerned “as a black man” from California. “I’m a long way from home and I understood the fact that Central Pennsylvania has—I mean the racial dynamics,” Favors testified, noting the state had active hate groups.
Favors told Weaver he wanted to get legal counsel before making a statement to police, because “as a black man in this situation I didn’t want to get taken advantage of,” Favors testified.
Once the coach was ready to talk, Weaver allegedly said, “Oh, now you want to cooperate.” Favors testified that Weaver added, “Well, I hold grudges.”
Favors claimed that when he met Weaver at his attorney’s office to write his statement, Weaver said, “I don’t appreciate… this is being made into a racial issue.”
In a previous phone call with Weaver, Favors told the cop he saw the case against both Parker and Celestin as “very much a racial issue.” At one point, Weaver allegedly told Favors: “My wife is black.”
“Why are you trying to prove, you know, your racial credentials to me?” Favors said of the cop.
The coaches didn’t speak publicly about the rape allegations, but members of Penn State’s Black Student Caucus did.
The case appeared to cause a divide on campus, particularly between women’s-rights activists and Black Student Caucus members.
After Celestin’s conviction, supporters rallied to let him graduate before he was sentenced to jail. The judge tailored his jail term so that Celestin could obtain his political science degree but the move faced protests from victims-rights advocates, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The uproar led to Penn State expelling Celestin for two years and preventing his graduation, according to the Inquirer.
District Attorney Ray Gricar told the student newspaper, the Daily Collegian, that the case’s outcome had nothing to do with race: “The verdict is solidly based on the law and evidence and that’s all—nothing more than that.”
But some students thought a “contentious racial climate” had contributed to Celestin’s conviction, as one caucus member told Collegian.
“Do you really think a black male of color, who is accused of raping a white female in Centre County, can get a fair trial when a jury of his peers are all white except one female of color? That’s a problem,” the student said.
Many friends of Celestin and Parker stood by the wrestlers during the trial.
Renee Mortel, a recent graduate at Penn State, sang Celestin’s praises on the witness stand, saying he was someone who “carries himself with respect and integrity.”
Now a Maryland prosecutor, Mortel endorsed Celestin as “an overall good person and he has been there for all my friends and me whenever I have asked.”
A 24-year-old Penn State student named Lurie Daniel raved about Celestin and Parker during trial as moral, trustworthy leaders on campus who stood out as “persons… of a high character” and “respected people.”
Daniel, who is now a New York City attorney and co-founded with Brian Favors a philanthropic effort to empower minority youths, couldn’t “think of anything negative to say” about either of them, other than that they were jokesters.
Still, not everyone had glowing reviews of the accused athletes. Troy Sunderland, a former three-time All American at Penn State, took over reins as the wrestling coach in 1999. At trial, when he was asked to weigh in on Celestin and Parker, the coach was less flattering.
“I would say that they did not have a great reputation among the team in terms of, you know, the relationship between the coaching staff or a number of the other wrestlers on the team,” Sunderland testified.
Parker was known for “bickering” and Sunderland claims he had to deal with numerous incidents where opposing wrestlers complained about Parker “using dirty tactics in terms of trying to poke guys in the eyes.”
In Parker’s defense, as one of the few black team members, he may have been battling acts of racism.
During a visit to University of Missouri in 2014, Parker’s mentor Brian Favors admired the actor’s resilience, and his move from fighting with his fists to fighting with his mind as an artist.
“I remember Nate saying, ‘These white guys say all these, make all these racist comments,’” Favors said of the college wrestling environment.
One of the ruses was when white teammates would tell him “Oh, hold the bag, Benson,” alluding to a 1980s television series about a butler named Benson DuBois, played by Robert Guillaume.
“I remember [Nate] saying, ‘They make these racist comments and I don’t have the words—I know it’s messed up—but I don’t have the words to check ’em, so I knocked their ass out.’”
Jennifer claimed that the tensions on Penn State’s campus also affected her.
After police opened an investigation into the rape allegations, Parker and Celestin allegedly launched an “organized campaign to harass [Jennifer] and make her fear for her safety,” according to a March 2002 federal civil suit, launched by the Women’s Law Project against Penn State on Jennifer’s behalf. The suit argued that college administrators favored the athletes over Jennifer after she brought the rape allegations and failed to protect her from Parker and his friends’ reprisals.
The university settled for $17,500 in December 2002, the Daily Collegian reported. Penn State did not respond to requests for comment on the Parker and Celestin case.
The identity of Parker and Celestin’s accuser was initially confidential—she was unnamed in news stories and listed only as Jane Doe in the federal lawsuit—but, according to the civil case, the wrestlers allegedly hired a private eye who splashed an enlarged photograph of Jennifer around campus so students could supply dirt on her.
The charade exposed Jennifer’s identity, the civil suit claimed, and resulted in her harassment on campus. The wrestlers and their pals allegedly “constantly hurled sexual epithets” at Jennifer while trailing her on campus. They also made harassing phone calls to her dorm, the lawsuit claimed.
While Parker and Celestin did not comment on the lawsuit, and were not parties to the civil suit, the university denied Jennifer’s claims. “Penn State acted responsibly every step of the way,” a school spokesman told the Collegian.
After the case was settled, another university rep said Penn State only settled out of court to avoid costs. “We look at it as we didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “We handled this in absolutely the best way we could.” (The suit was filed the same month that Penn State began probing the child sex abuse claims against assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.)
Meanwhile, the alleged harassment sent Jennifer into severe depression, sleeplessness, and anxiety attacks, the court papers said.
She stopped going to class or leaving her dorm altogether.
On Nov. 17, 1999, Jennifer attempted suicide, according to the suit.
She tried to kill herself again on Nov. 23. Two days later, Jennifer wrote to Penn State officials detailing “the horrors she had been through” and begged the university to stop the wrestlers and their cohorts from their alleged harassment, the complaint says.
Jennifer was granted permission to relocate to an on-campus apartment—but it did little to save her academic career. (The university said it “offered [Jennifer] a variety of housing options and did relocate [her] and her roommate to an on-campus apartment,” court papers show.)
She “struggled unsuccessfully to continue attending class and to maintain her 4.0 grade point average,” the lawsuit stated. By the winter term in 2000, she’d dropped out.
Jennifer’s sister, Sharon, told The Daily Beast that Jennifer suffered scorn from many sympathizers of Parker and Celestin on campus: “She told me about the harassment and being fearful of Black Caucus members getting together and yelling at her, ‘There goes the white girl crying rape!’” Sharon said.
“She did not feel comfortable walking around campus because they shamed her everywhere she went… She went from a vibrant person into the deepest depression I had ever seen.”
Once Penn State and Jennifer severed ties, Sharon let Jennifer stay with her in Philadelphia after she tried to hold down various nanny jobs around Pennsylvania and as far away as Florida. Jennifer said she had been taking Prozac since 1997 for previous bouts of depression, and the long time between the rape accusations and the trial date—more than two years—caused her to sink even further into the abyss.
“She would literally sleep as much as she possibly could. Sleep all day. She’d wake up for little bits of time to eat pizza and smoke a cigarette,” Sharon said. “It was very bad—she had no life in her. There was no life left in her.”
During the three-day trial against Parker and Celestin, Jennifer’s sexual history, her decision to drink that night, and even the clothes she wore were attacked by defense attorneys.
Parker’s and Celestin’s lawyers zeroed in on Jennifer’s drinking on the night of her “date” and on other nights before that.
A bartender at the Silver Screen Grille testified that she recognized Jennifer as a frequent visitor on Friday nights, when a Latin band played merengue and salsa music.
Jennifer was brought back to testify multiple times at trial to talk about her Prozac intake, and admitted she took 40 milligrams on the evening before she went to the Silver Screen Grille.
A forensic toxicologist and registered pharmacist, Dr. Wagdy Wahba, determined at trial that by the time Jennifer was inside Parker’s room her blood alcohol concentration level was approximately .186, based on the number of Sex on the Beach drinks (melon schnapps: 46 proof, vodka: 80 proof, raspberry schnapps: 33 proof) and the rum shot at Kavamahanga’s apartment.
Mixing Prozac with booze could possibly have lead to an incapacitated state, the doctor testified. “I can say that the combination of alcohol and Prozac would cause a person to be at least impaired physically, mentally, and their motor functions,” Dr. Wahba said, adding “[and] unable to move.”
A clinical pathologist, Dr. Harold Cottle, was brought in to upend Dr. Wahba’s claims. He hypothesized that if someone was unconscious during oral sex, with a .186 alcohol intake, it would have left telltale lacerations on the private parts of the men.
Defense attorneys also displayed a photograph of Jennifer, holding a wine cooler while reclining on a witness named Michael Diggs, who testified for the defense that he’d partied with her in the past. When called to the stand, he couldn’t even remember Jennifer’s last name.
Both defense lawyers referred to Diggs in closing statements. “He told you about Jennifer and her drinking. This wasn’t new to her, ladies and gentlemen,” one of the attorneys said.
Twice, the defense asked witnesses about Jennifer’s tight-fitting clothes on the night of the alleged rape.
Attorney Joseph Devecka asked the Silver Screen Grille bartender about Jennifer’s clothing that night. The bartender replied that Jennifer was wearing “a short… black skirt and white top.”
“A tight fitting white top?” Devecka asked, to which the bartender responded in the affirmative. Then the attorney asked whether the shirt was tight-fitting and off-the-shoulder.
“The black skirt was a black micro-mini skirt?” Devecka continued.
“It was short,” the bartender said.
“Was that the normal kind of dress that people wore on that night?” Devecka asked, before the judge ruled the question irrelevant.
Attorney Devecka also grilled Jennifer about her sexual history with Parker—insinuating that the oral sex they’d engaged in at her dorm room threw her rape claims into question.
“Now, you invited him to your dorm room; is that correct?” the attorney asked Jennifer.
“You didn’t go out to dinner?”
“You didn’t go on a date?”
“You didn’t go to a movie?”
“He put his penis in your mouth?”
“And you didn’t object to that?”
“No. It was my idea.”
“This was oral sex between two consenting adults, correct?”
“Yes, it was.”
After the three-day trial, Nate Parker was acquitted of all charges; court transcripts show the jury had questions about what constituted consent. He left Penn State shortly thereafter for Norman, Oklahoma, where he wrestled for the much higher-ranking University of Oklahoma Sooners.
A Sooners profile shows Parker began wrestling for the team in the 2002 season, indicating he transferred after the trial. He placed fifth at the NCAA championships that year and became an All-American wrestler.
Parker told the Virginian-Pilot he no longer felt comfortable at Penn State. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2003 with a degree in computer programming. When he accompanied a friend and aspiring model on a trip to Dallas, a talent agent was looking at him instead.
Within weeks, Parker had moved to Los Angeles and landed a job in a commercial, according to the Virginian-Pilot. Then came bit parts in movies and TV, until his breakthrough role in The Great Debaters.
Meanwhile, Celestin’s troubles were far from over. He was convicted of sexually assaulting Jennifer, a verdict reached by a jury of eight men and four women, and sentenced to six months to a year in jail. The sentence was deemed too “lenient” by then-District Attorney Ray Gricar, who went missing in 2005. (Gricar was the same DA who declined to prosecute Sandusky in 1998 over child molestation allegations.)
Pennsylvania’s Superior Court ordered Celestin to be resentenced to two to four years in state prison and to register as a sex offender when he was released in 2004. (He is not currently listed as a sex offender in Pennsylvania records.)
At the time, Celestin told the college paper how the horrors of that night failed to leave him alone.
“I’m sad to be here, and I’m nervous to be here. It feels like living life in a hostage situation. There is never any closure. I just want it all to be over,” said Celestin, who was expelled after the conviction.
After hiring a new attorney, Celestin claimed his initial representation bungled the case by failing to object to “hearsay statements” and the illegally-recorded phone calls. He was granted a second trial. It would never happen, despite Jennifer’s determination to testify again. In 2006, a judge ruled previous testimony could not be used in the new trial. Prosecutors ultimately declined to retry the case, saying witnesses were scattered around the world, the Centre Daily Times reported in 2006. “We were really left with a big hole in our case,” then-assistant prosecutor Lance Marshall told the newspaper.
Celestin’s guilty verdict for sex assault was purged.
All records in Celestin’s case appear to have been expunged, and how much jail time he served is unclear. Representatives of the Centre County jail and district attorney’s office said they had no record of Celestin. But in 2005, when news broke that Celestin, who is originally from Haiti, would get a new trial, the Collegian reported he was still in jail and had a detainer lodged against him by Immigration and Naturalization Services.
Today Celestin lives in New York and has two children. According to one literary agency biography, Celestin is a guest speaker at Rikers Island and the Fortune Society, a nonprofit that supports people released from prison. In recent years, he’s written for various outlets including The Root and The Haitian Times.
His bio on The Haitian Times states he graduated from Penn State with a bachelor’s in political science and a minor in history. (Penn State could not confirm whether he graduated and referred a Daily Beast reporter to the National Student Clearinghouse.)
Celestin had not commented on the rape allegations until an interview with Deadline Hollywood last week. Celestin told Deadline in an email, “This was something that I experienced as a college student 17 years ago and was fully exonerated of. I have since moved on and been focusing on my family and writing career.”
Still, the former grappler has commented on “false rape accusations” and other criminal justice issues on Twitter.
“Stories of false rape accusations are as awful as when rape really does happen,” Celestin tweeted in August 2013. “I’m sure both realities feel like something close to death.”
Jennifer’s life after the rape trial was not an easy one.
At Celestin’s resentencing in 2004, Assistant District Attorney Lance Marshall read a written statement from Jennifer saying the alleged assault had prevented her from graduating from Penn State.
“She’ll never know what type of person she could have become if she graduated college,” Marshall said.
She moved away to Maryland, where she tried to get an education by taking online courses. Then she relocated to sunny Florida, hoping for another fresh start, but her bout with depression only worsened.
In 2002, one year after the trial, she gave birth to a baby boy.
But the demanding duties of motherhood proved too much for Jennifer, who had once abstained from drugs. She left Florida for Georgia years later and and graduated from marijuana to K2, friends and relatives told The Daily Beast.
“She wanted me to finish raising [her son] when she couldn’t raise him,” Jennifer’s friend Elizabeth said.
“We had to hire a private investigator to find her in Georgia,” Elizabeth told The Daily Beast. “That’s when she started smoking incense.”
Even as she battled with addiction, Jennifer stayed in close touch with her son. “She called my phone every day to talk to [him],” Elizabeth said.
But her mind seemed to be struggling.
She believed she was the Messiah or “lamb of god” or Satan, depending on the time of day, her family and friends said.
“One minute she thought she was Christ, the next minute she thought she was Satan,” her sister Sharon said. “She also thought other people were Christ and Satan.” At one point, she thought God was talking to her through the car radio.
Jennifer’s psychosis took on a violent streak and she even accused Sharon and her husband of kidnapping her after Jennifer was admitted to a mental institution.
“We worried, all of us, that she might kidnap her son one day,” Sharon said. “She was in such a condition.”
Eventually, Jennifer was placed in a halfway house in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, by the Women’s Law Project (the same group that brought the civil lawsuit settlement against Penn State on her behalf). At that point, her family feared for her life, and their own lives.
“I had to shut my blinds my curtains—we didn’t know if she was going to just show up and we didn’t know what she was going to do,” Sharon said.
On April 15, 2012—more than 10 years after she faced Parker and Celestin in court—Jennifer swallowed 199 Rite Aid sleeping pills and, according to her coroner’s report, died that morning. She wasn’t discovered until the evening.
She left no note. But there were pages and pages of writings on her laptop that ranged from song lyrics to religious rants. “There was stuff in there about the Book of Revelations,” Sharon said. “She went into absolute psychosis.
“She lost her mind.”
Her sister believes Jennifer decided she needed to spare everybody the heartache of dealing with her mental illness. “The sad thing is she was protecting everybody by killing herself.”
Now, as Sharon watches television, she sees Parker and Celestin campaigning for their blockbuster film, which will land in theaters in October.
She says seeing them makes her “irate.”
“He’s probably going to get an Academy Award,” she said of Parker, barely able to speak through tears. “It eats me up.
“That stuff being all over the TV and… nobody speaking out for her.”