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Basketball star found guilty of sexual assault

March 29, 1997 GMT

ALBANY, Ga. (AP) _ A Dougherty County jury Friday found former high school basketball star Michael Spruell guilty of sexually assaulting two women last May.

The eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated for nearly four hours before returning the guilty verdicts against Spruell, who won a scholarship to Auburn, on charges of rape, aggravated assault and criminal attempt at aggravated sodomy.

This was his third trial on the charges that he approached two women in separate incidents on May 10, offered them rides and forced himself on them.

Spruell, who signed with Auburn out of Okaloosa-Walton (Fla.) Junior College before his arrest last May, practiced but did not play for the Tigers this year.

As his lawyer, David Slemons, questioned each juror on whether the verdict was true, Spruell cupped his head in his hands. His parents sobbed and collapsed into each other’s arms as their 22-year-old son was taken into custody and delivered to Dougherty County Jail.

Prosecutors urged jurors during closing arguments Friday to look past Spruell’s reputation as an athlete.

``Some people think this rapist should go free just because he can jump. That’s when you have injustice,″ said Greg Edwards, assistant district attorney.

Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette scheduled sentencing for April 23. Spruell faces a maximum of life in prison for rape, up to 20 years for aggravated assault and up to 10 years for criminal attempt at aggravated sodomy.

Spruell’s first two trials ended in mistrials.

During his first trial, Spruell testified he was driving home after dropping off Tarus Lewis when he stopped at a stop sign and a woman jumped in his car and offered him sex for $15. He said he declined and tried to get the woman out of his car, but she pressed something sharp to his neck and told him to have sex with her. He admitted hitting her and struggling with her while trying to push her out of the car.

A former star for Albany High School, Spruell is among the top scorers in Dougherty County history with 2,300 points.

He helped Okaloosa-Walton Community College in Niceville, Fla., win the national junior college championship as a freshman.

While attending the junior college two years ago, he was recruited by Auburn to play basketball and received a full athletic scholarship.