LOS ANGELES — NBA star Derrick Rose and two friends were cleared Wednesday in a $21.5 million lawsuit that accused them of gang raping his ex-girlfriend when she was incapacitated from drugs or alcohol.
Jurors in Los Angeles federal court reached the verdict in less than four hours after concluding there was a lack of evidence to support the woman's claims and dismissing her account as unbelievable.
"It felt like she was playing us," said a juror who would only give his first name as Jared. "The second her lawyer started questioning her, she would start crying. I mean, granted, that could be realistic, but I feel l'm pretty good at reading people, and I felt as if it was false."
Jared was among several jurors who spoke to reporters outside the courthouse, none of whom gave their full names.
Rose remained stoic as the verdict was read and later thanked jurors and posed for photos with them in the lobby, draping his left arm around each one who wanted a souvenir of the Knicks point guard as one of his lawyers snapped photos on their phones.
"I am thankful that the jury understood and agreed with me," Rose said in a statement. "This experience and my sensitivity to it was deep. I am ready to put this behind me and focus on my family and career."
The case was X-rated at times with testimony from the men about poolside group sex at a mansion Rose rented in Beverly Hills in the summer of 2013 and multiple sexual encounters throughout the night and into the next morning.
The woman denied having sex at Rose's place, saying she had a few tequila shots and felt drugged before going home. Her lawyer said the defence invented the story to make it look like she had willingly had sex with the men.
The incident in question happened hours later in the early morning of Aug. 27 when she said the three men came to her Los Angeles apartment and had sex with her after she had passed out.
The issue for the jury was whether she consented to sex or was too intoxicated to do so. The men all said it was clear she was willing when she stopped the three outside her bedroom door and said, "One at a time."
Defence lawyers tarred her as a gold-digging liar who tried to sway jurors through emotions to get a piece of Rose's fortune. They claimed she was angry he had dumped her, so she set him up and brought the lawsuit in hopes of a big payoff.
"All three men were innocent from Day 1," Rose's attorney, Mark Baute, said after the verdict. "We're very happy that the system worked."
The woman's lawyer called the men "sexual deviants" who conspired to gang rape her after she was drunk and incapable of consenting to sex.
Attorney Waukeen McCoy said he will explore appeal options.
"It's a shame for women, for this country, that a celebrity can come into court and slut-shame a woman like my client," McCoy said.
The accuser, who had become emotional and trembled at times while testifying, buried her head in her hands as the verdict was read, with her long hair covering her face.
McCoy said the woman was devastated and did not understand how jurors could reach their conclusion. She left the courthouse without commenting.
Rose's lawyer said in closing arguments Tuesday that the suit was a "hoax and a joke" and jurors should not even award $20 because it would doom the future of the onetime MVP and the family and friends he was supporting by violating a morals clause in his player contract and a lucrative deal with Adidas.
The woman's lawyer said during closings that the 30-year-old college student was not in it for the money, but was seeking accountability for what was morally and legally wrong. He said the men had never apologized or shown any remorse.
"The three men laughed their way home," McCoy said.
The defence portrayed Rose and his childhood pals, Ryan Allen and Randall Hampton, who both work for him, as victims in the case and the lawyers mocked the woman's lies and demeanour on the witness stand.
The juror named Jared said the panel of six women and two men had found the three defendants genuine and honest. Jared and the jury forewoman, who wouldn't give her name, said they went through each piece of evidence provided to support the woman's case and found nothing added up.
"I don't want to call her a liar," the forewoman said. "I just didn't feel like there was enough evidence."
Los Angeles police have an open investigation into the woman's claims.
The Associated Press does not generally name people who say they are victims of sex crimes.
Rose, 28, was traded to New York this year after spending seven seasons in his native Chicago, where he won Rookie of the Year honours with the Bulls and was the youngest player to be awarded MVP in 2011.
He has been plagued with knee injuries and is in the final year of a five-year deal that will pay him $21.3 million.