By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
A young woman takes her life, a family suffers an unthinkable loss, and the media tells a story both sad and horrifyingly villainous.
But what are the facts?
Local, national and international reports of University of Alabama co-ed Megan Rondini’s alleged rape and suicide by hanging seven months after the events of July 2015 has cast a long shadow over the City of Tuscaloosa, law-enforcement, the University, local medical practitioners and the alleged rapist, 34-year-old Tuscaloosa-native T.J. Bunn.
Recently, the Alabama Political Reporter obtained a large volume of previously undisclosed public records that fill in many of the details surrounding the alleged rape, actions taken by the Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s Office and others.
Megan’s text messages, video diary, police interview recordings, CCTV footage and Snapchat videos, as well as medical examination, show a much broader picture of the events than previously reported in the media and sensationalized by internet bloggers and websites.
APR has filed an open-records request with the Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s Office to ensure all material related to Megan’s case are released and nothing excluded from direct examination.
Rape is an act of violence, and an allegation of rape is a serious matter. Therefore, all the facts and not just a handful selectively doled out evidence should be scrutinized under the harsh light of justice.
Rape according to the law
According to 2006 Alabama Code – Section 13A-6-61 — Rape in the first degree.
(a) A person commits the crime of rape in the first-degree if:
(1) He or she engages in sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex by forcible compulsion; or
(2) He or she engages in sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex who is incapable of consent by reason of being physically helpless or mentally incapacitated; or
(3) He or she, being 16 years or older, engages in sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex who is less than 12 years old.
(b) Rape in the first degree is a Class A felony.
After Megan’s suicide the Rondini family filed a Federal wrongful death lawsuit against the University, the Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s Office, and Bunn, alleging her rape allegations were mishandled and ultimately led to her depression and suicide.
On July 2, 2016, Megan accused T.J. Bunn Jr., whom she called by his nickname Sweet Tea, of rape.
A Buzzfeed report which fueled outrage around Megan’s death said, “Megan Rondini’s friends and family remember her as having an ironclad sense of right and wrong. Her childhood nickname was ‘Rules Rondini’ because she was such a principled board game player.” Buzzfeed’s story shows a straight-laced honor’s student who was molested by the son of a well to do Tuscaloosa family. The report further states, “Megan couldn’t remember how she ended up in Sweet T’s white Mercedes on the way to his ornate mansion, decorated with his choicest hunting conquests, from massive-tusked elephant and wide-mouthed hippo heads to taxidermied lions and leopards. But, Megan later told police, she was sober enough by the time he pointed her toward his bedroom to know she didn’t want to have sex with him — and, she said, Sweet T should’ve known it, too.”
Text, emoji’s and Snapchat before sex
During her time at Bunn’s home, she sent Snapchat videos to friends showing Bunn’s hunting conquest giggling while naming the animals one by one. She also sends other text messages and videos.
According to text messages from Megan’s cell phone the sexual encounter with Bunn took place between 12:23 a.m. and 1:04 a.m. on the morning of July 2. At about 12:14 Megan made videos of the interior of Bunn’s house and sent them to friends via text messages and Snapchat. During this period the following text correspondence took place:
Megan: Pick me up in morning
Friend: Kk I have class at 10 so early ish
Megan: We are going to guck
Friend: Do it?
Friend: Wear a condom
Friend: Good luck
Megan: Eww but I’ll make it real good
Friend: Hahah like a tru horseback rider
On the timeline established by Megan’s text messages, the above conversation took place just before her sexual encounter with Bunn in his bedroom at his Cottondale home.
In her handwritten statement to the Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s Department Megan wrote, “I waited for him in his room on a chair near the door and a bathroom. When he came to his room, he insisted we have sex and I let him have sex with me after much insisting that I needed to leave.”
Megan confirmed in her interviews with Sheriff’s investigators that she had oral sex (fellatio) and vaginal sex with Bunn. She also said in another interview that Bunn performed cunnilingus on her. Megan told officers that she was “not responsive” during the sex acts. On three occasions Megan said to law-enforcement officers that she never told Bunn no, only that she wanted to leave.
At 1:04 Megan text another friend: Cb come get me.
Megan and friends text about Sweet Tea and his money
But July 2015 was not when Megan first chanced upon Bunn or discussed her friend’s interest in his money.
Megan told Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s investors she didn’t know Bunn but had seen him in the campus bar scene and met him sometime before Thanksgiving 2014.
In a November 28, 2014, text message exchange she and a friend discuss Bunn:
Megan: 8:52 a.m. Met the guy that owns wood and water last night.
Friend: 8:52 a.m. Bro hook me up with a discount
Megan: 8:53 Haha I’ll work on it.
[Bunn is not affiliated with Wood and Water, but his family does own a mega constitution interest S T Bunn Construction Company.]
In a group text on December 13, 2014, Megan and her friends discuss Bunn again:
Megan: 3:08:13 p.m. Mich can just smoke weed and marry someone rich to finance it
Friend: 3:08:34 p.m. Trueee
Friend: 3:08:42 p.m. Yes
Megan: 3:08:56 p.m. Cough Sweet Tea cough
Friend: 3:13:27 p.m. OMG YES
Friend: 3:15:29 p.m. I NEED TO marry him
Friend: 3:15:44 p.m. Who is sweet tea
Friend: 3:17:52 p.m. Hahahahaha
Megan: 3:19:04 p.m. Megan sends a picture of Bunn and one of his friends in conversation.
Friend: 3:20:00 p.m. Oh shit he’s so not as old as yall made him out to be
Friend: 3:22:08p.m. Old enough to be my dad
Friend: 3:22:08 p.m. How old is he
Friend: 3:22:08 p.m. I mean id def go for him if I were just a lil older ya know $$$$
Bunn, nearly 15 years Megan’s senior at the time, is from a wealthy and influential Tuscaloosa family. His habit of haunting taverns frequented by young college co-eds has given him a roguish reputation according to locals. “His a 30 something frat guy still trolling for college girls,” said a law-enforcement officer. “With that silly nickname and airs of privilege. He’s a dirt bag,” said the officer who is not authorized to speak on the record. Megan and her friends were aware of Bunn’s habit of hanging out at bars and his family money, as shown from texts in November and December of 2014.
In her original statement at DCH Regional Medical Center and subsequent interviews, Megan left out details of the night and early morning July 1-2 saying she couldn’t remember.
Megan said she didn’t recall taking Bunn and his friend known as Jason to her apartment before going to Bunn’s home. CCTV from the hallway at Megan apartment at Houndstooth Apartments show, Megan, Bunn and “Jason” enter her apartment and captures the trio leaving. The videos show Megan and the two men walking without staggered steps or unusual behavior. Bunn is seen clapping his hands together as they entered the apartment.
Urgent calls for a ride
According to Megan’s statement to law-enforcement, Bunn fell asleep after sex, and she took the opportunity to leave. “When he finished he rolled over and fell asleep, and I quickly got up to gather my clothes,” she wrote.
Over approximately an hour Megan sent a series of text messages looking for someone to pick her up from Bunn’s home and saying she couldn’t leave Bunn’s bedroom because the door was locked.
At 1:08, according to Megan’s phone records a friend text, “Currently trying to figure out sober people to help.”
In the next text, the friend asks, “Who are you with” Seconds late Megan reply, “Some rich rude help.”
In her handwritten statement to investigators, Megan wrote: “When I tried to open any of the doors they were either locked or a closet.” She says she found a ring of keys but was still unable to open the doors. “I tried to wake up Sweet Tea, but he would not help me.” She then decided to climb out an open window on the second floor of Bunn’s home.
At 1:19:07 a.m. Megan text: I’m climbing out the window.
The following text messages were sent to friends over the next hour:
Megan: 1:52:48 a.m. Why will no one help me
Friend: 1:53:12 a.m. Cuz we’re all fucked up
Megan: 1:55:56 a.m. I’m literally stuck in someone ducking red room thirty minutes off campus I fucking die this is why
Friend: 1:58:03 a.m. coming
Megan: 2:03:59 a.m. I cannot find my keys I looked for the li
Megan: 2:08:38 If this was a time to get someone it would be ducking now
Megan not only climbed down from the second story window she climbed back up to look for her keys according to her statements to investigators.
During the period Megan also went through Bunn’s car finding a hand gun which she says unintentional discharged. She also said she took Bunn’s keys, some cash, and football tickets as well as the handgun.
Along with texting friends and giving then Bunn’s address, she called a taxi which arrives just before her friends. Megan told officers who interviewed her at DCH Medical Center ER that her friend said she needed to come to the hospital to be checked out. Megan’s test results showed she had vaginal intercourse as well as another yet undisclosed problem.
Megan told officers she didn’t want to make a “big deal” out of the situation and later said she was considering not filing charges against Bunn.
Grand Jury returns no bill
Tuscaloosa County District Attorney’s Office did finally take Megan’s case to a grand jury, which returned a no bill that meant Bunn was never charged with rape.
The Rondini family contend in their lawsuit that defendants involved in Megan’s case “negligently, recklessly, wantonly, and/or wrongfully acted or failed to act in response to Megan’s reported sexual assault.”
The files reviewed by APR are filled with graphic details of Megan’s life, some too shocking for print but surely will be exposed during a trial. They also show Bunn was no angel and misrepresented facts to investigators.
“Sexual assault and rape are violent crimes of power and control that are acted through sexual means,” according to Peace Over Violence. “It is not just the act of sex.”
The events of July 1-2, 2015, have damaged two families, cast doubt on the reputation of the University of Alabama, The City of Tuscaloosa, the Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s Office and DCH Medical Center. The facts of what happen matter. But most sadly no fact or act will ever bring back the life of Megan Rondini. Lost forever is the promise of her youth and hopes of tomorrow.
House passes General Fund Budget
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.
The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.
Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”
Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.
The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.
Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.
Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.
The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.
Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.
The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.
Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.
The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.
In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.
SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.
Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”
State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”
The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.
The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.
The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.
The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.
Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.
SB185 passed 101-0.
Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.
Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1 for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.
SB215 passed the House 87-0.
The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.
State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.
SB231 passed 87-2.
The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.
The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.
The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.
Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.
Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.
Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.
Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday
By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter
The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.
Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.
Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.
The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.
Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.
Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.
Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.
Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.
Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.
Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.
The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.
Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.
It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.
Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor
By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter
Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.
The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.
Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.
Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.
Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.
- Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)
Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.
Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.
The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.
Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.
House OKs bill to clarify consulting contracts by state legislators
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill to try to clarify how legislators accept consulting contracts under Alabama’s 2010 ethics law. Some pundits have suggested that House Bill 387 is actually designed to weaken the existing ethics law.
Sponsor state Rep. Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, argues that the legislation is merely a clarification and is intended to prevent legislators from inadvertently crossing the line into illegality.
Wingo said that his bill would require legislators to notify the Alabama Ethics Commission that they have entered into a consulting agreement in an area outside of their normal scope of work.
State Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville, said, “I have never understood why members of this body were allowed to take contracts as consultants or counselors.”
Wingo said, “Never do I use the word counselor in my bill; it is consulting.”
Beckman asked, “Are we going to be getting into an area where every time we turn around we create a bureaucratic nightmare where we have to go get an opinion. These opinions whether it is orally or written don’t hold up in a court of law.” Beckman said, “We are serving the people here but we get this admonition that we can still be a consultant if we get an opinion.”
Wingo said, “This does not apply to professions where a member is currently licensed.”
Beckman said, “I would like to see more opinions coming out of the Ethics Commission. Right now we have the Ethics Commission competing with the Attorney General’s office over who has more authority.”
State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said,”This happened to a friend of mine. He just got out of prison. He was a state senator and had a written letter from the Ethics Commission which his lawyer read at trial and the jury convicted him anyway.”
Rogers never named his friend, but reporters think he was talking about former state Sen. Edward Browning ‘E. B.’ McClain who spent over 22 years in the legislature until he was convicted on 47 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, bribery, and money laundry in 2009.
A federal jury found that McClain and the Rev. Samuel Pettagrue were guilty in a scheme where McClain would secure public funds for Pettagrue’s community programs and then receive a kickback once the funds were in hand. McClain was sentenced to five years and ten months in prison. McClain was not prosecuted under the Alabama ethics law as the state has a much weaker ethics statute then. The current ethics law was passed in 2010.
Rogers said, “If they offer me a consulting contract for a field like aerospace engineering that I know nothing about they are trying to pay me off. If you can already be a consultant for something you know about why would you seek a consulting contract for something you don’t know about.
Rogers this is how they can pay you off for your vote.”
State Rep. Artis “A.J.” McCampbell said, “I don’t like making changes to things like this because we get into things called unintended consequences.”
McCampbell was reading from the bill and Wingo said, “You are reading from the original version it has completely changed.” “We worked tirelessly on this bill with the Ethics Commission this is not a fly by night bill.”
“If a member of the legislature enters into a contract to do a consulting contract outside of their normal field of work this bill requires that they consult with the Ethics Commission first,” Wingo said. “It is up to the member to notify the Ethics Commission not to the company or person offering them the money.”
State Representative Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said, “Everybody but legislators are allowed to do contract work up to $30,000.”
Rep. Wingo said, “This is not intended to be a roadblock.”
State Representative Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, said, “The whole purpose of this is not to prevent members from doing work in your field.” “What you are doing is offering to protect me.”
State Representative John Knight, D-Montgomery, asked Wingo what the Alabama Attorney General said about this legislation.
Wingo replied, “I have not contacted the Attorney General.”
Knight responded, “Something from the Ethics Commission does not carry a lot of protection from the Attorney General. We have seen that in the past. I think the Attorney General and the Ethics Commission should be in agreement in the working on this.”
Wingo answered, “Maybe this is a first step.”
Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, asked, “Do we have anybody doing work outside of their regular scope of work?”
Wingo answered, “Yes I think so.”
Wingo said, “If we had had this bill four or five years ago maybe we could have been spared the embarrassment that this body experienced with the former Speaker.”
Wingo was referring to former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard who was convicted of 12 counts of felony ethics violations in June 2016. Ironically, Hubbard is largely responsible for creating the ethics law that he was found guilty of violating 11 times in his relentless pursuit of outside contracts and personal wealth.
Unlike McClain, however, Hubbard has not yet served any of this sentence.
House Bill 387 passed 67-0 with 26 legislators abstaining.
The bill now moves to the Senate for its consideration.
(Original reporting by the Alabama Media Group’s Lisa Osborn in 2009 was consulted in this report.)