A Mobile County jury has sided with a Spring Hill College (SHC) graduate accused of rape and returned a not-guilty verdict on all counts Thursday afternoon.
Vassil Kokali, 23, an Italian national and former member of the Badger’s soccer team, was accused by fellow SHC student Audrey Cox of rape. Kokali was arrested last year after Cox went public with her accusations in March 2021. She claimed Kokali entered her dorm without permission after a night in downtown Mobile and sexually assaulted her while she was inebriated.
After an eight-day trial, a jury of seven women and five men returned the verdict after 90 minutes of deliberation. That decision acquits Kokali of four charges of rape, sodomy, burglary and sexual misconduct.
The case was prosecuted by Mobile County Assistant District Attorney Johana Bucci. Kokali was represented by attorneys Megan Doggett and Domingo Soto.
Testimony in the trial included Cox and a third party who claimed to have been assaulted by Kokali. The defense called several witnesses who vouched for Kokali’s character and called into question Cox’s integrity and trustworthiness. Kokali also took the stand himself to offer his account of what transpired between the two last year.
Kokali spoke with members of the press following the verdict Thursday. He said he cried when the verdict was read.
“I want to thank all of my friends and family. It would have been impossible to withstand so much stress for 15 months. I’m just very grateful to God for the truth to finally come out. I’m upset that I had to go through all of this. I hope what happened to me can help people who are falsely accused in the future and for people to understand that if someone accuses you, you are not guilty.”
Kokali said many go through this same kind of situation and end up in jail even though they are innocent.
“I’m just glad that I had the best team who I could have hoped for. It’s just done, finally, and I’m very happy.”
One reporter asked Kokali what message he had for Cox.
“I don’t have to say anything either to Audrey Cox or to you [the reporter], to be honest,” Kokali said. “Since day one, you chased me down the stairs [of the courthouse] and you didn’t help. You definitely didn’t help me be calm.”
Another reporter asked what Kokali’s plans were going forward.
“To live my life. Go home. Come back. Maybe keep looking for redemption. Telling my story. Helping people who are in my position. That’s the plan,” he said. “I’m going to embrace what happened and not hide from it.”
Even though rape was the most severe charge Kokali faced, attorney Doggett said a verdict of not guilty on all counts represented a “huge victory.”
“I told you all from day one that we would vindicate him. He is innocent. We are so thankful for this jury for what they have done, for their service, for listening to the facts and setting him free,” Doggett said.
She noted the situation has been detrimental to Kokali’s time in the U.S.
“This was all baseless. One false accusation can completely turn a young man’s life upside-down,” Doggett said. “There’s been a lot of damage that has been done because of what has been put out by Mrs. Cox, specifically on social media. This man’s name will forever pop up on Google searches and will follow him for the rest of his life.”
In closing arguments Thursday, Doggett said the extent of the situation boiled down to the results of college kids partying, getting drunk and hooking up.
“This is the risk when you hook up with someone you don’t know that well. Vassil found that out the very, very hard way,” Doggett said. “I think the jury saw it that way. It’s not illegal to have sex with someone while under the influence of alcohol. I think that was made very clear through the course of this trial.”
Doggett said there wasn’t an isolated argument or piece of evidence that proved Kokali’s innocence. She said it was the totality of the defense. However, she added that character witnesses and Kokali personally taking the stand were significant parts of establishing their case.
Cox posted to her social media profile following the trial, stating, “I believe a miscarriage of justice has happened with today’s verdict. I want to thank District Attorney Ashley Rich and everyone at the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office for their belief in pursuing justice on my behalf. For all victims of rape and sexual assault, coming forward is incredibly difficult. I am grateful to those who have supported me in this process. This verdict will make it more difficult for survivors of abuse to come forward.”
Assistant DA Bucci said the jury’s decision to find Kokali not guilty on all charges was “a little surprising” in light of a Title IX administrative court ruling in September 2021 that found Kokali had violated SHC’s sexual misconduct policies. The penalty for that violation was delaying Kokali’s diploma by six months.
“I’d love to hear the jury’s opinion on that, but again, we respect their decision,” Bucci said.
Bucci said the verdict will discourage victims of sexual assault from coming forward in the future. She commended Cox for pursuing the charges and said the DA’s office did everything they could to present the case. She believes the jury’s verdict came down to the matter of consent. She said prosecutors couldn’t work with the evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Cox did not consent to the encounter.
During the state’s closing argument, Bucci acknowledged Cox’s history of promiscuous behavior but argued that was no justification for being the victim of sexual assault.
Another woman testified of being raped by Kokali during the trial. However, Bucci said that the individual does not want to bring charges.
Bucci noted Cox cried when the verdict was read.
“Rightfully so, she’s had an emotional two weeks and an emotional 15 months. It all came to a head today. I think she learned a lot in this trial. She’s going to have to learn to pick her head up and keep moving forward. She is a strong woman. She’ll do it,” Bucci said.
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