A 16-year-old former East High School football player accused of multiple sex crimes stemming from a hazing incident involving fellow team members was found guilty Friday in 3rd District Juvenile Court.
At the heart of the case was the debate on whether teenage boys holding down other teenage boys and exposing a person's genitals to them constituted deviant criminal behavior or typical horseplay.
Judge Dane Nolan ruled the defendant's behavior was a sexual act and that he engaged in conduct that caused emotional pain to the victims.
The teen was found guilty of forcible sexual abuse and attempted forcible sodomy, both first-degree felonies, and class A misdemeanor lewdness. All crimes were elevated one step because they were committed by a group of people. Nolan ordered the youth into custody and ordered an evaluation.
The case stems from three hazing incidents last August and September. All the defendants and victims involved were members of the school's sophomore football team. Three of the team's members were charged with assaulting three fellow teammates in the school locker room on three separate occasions.
The Deseret Morning News generally does not print the names of defendants in juvenile court or victims of sex crimes.
The two boys who held the victims down pleaded guilty in December to reduced charges in exchange for testifying against the defendant in today's case.
One of the biggest hurdles for prosecutors was the testimonies of some of their own witnesses seven current or former players took the stand and many tried to minimize what happened, characterizing it as "horseplay."
The two boys who had previously taken plea deals, one of whom is related to the defendant, also downplayed the hazings.
After issuing his sentence, Nolan noted that he found the testimonies of the two hazing accomplices had "very limited credibility" filled with "convenient lapses of memory" and statements that contradicted proven facts.
But Nolan found there was enough credibility in the courtroom testimonies of other players, and in what they initially told the investigating officer, that there was evidence to support the charges.
Despite two of the victims trying to minimize what happened, the third victim, a 15-year-old boy, stuck to his story, explaining Friday in graphic detail how he was grabbed by two boys, pinned down, and the defendant placed his genitals on his forehead.
"I don't know why they did it. I never thought he'd be the type of person to do that. I didn't feel I could trust him anymore," the boy said.
The boy said he is still embarrassed by what happened and notices people at school giving him strange looks.
"I hear from other people, they make fun of me," he said. "It separates me from my friends I used to have."
Prosecutor Narda Beas-Nordell rejected the horseplay contention.
"To (the defendant) it meant nothing, it was all a joke. But yes, it had emotional impact on the victim," she said. " ... It's not acceptable to sit on somebody's head with your buttocks."
The defendant testified in his own defense, saying he never intended to do anything for sexual gratification.
During closing arguments, defense attorney Russ Pietryga said prosecutors overcharged the case.
"They have created this monster ... I find it unbelievable they are asking the court to do gymnastics to find first-degree felonies," Pietryga said.
Outside court, prior to sentencing, the defendant was talking and joking around with the boys who testified for the state, even those who were victimized.
The defendant's parents cried as the verdict was issued. Before sentencing, the three victims in the case including the one who gave the most credible testimony all asked the judge to keep the defendant on house arrest. The boy who offered the most graphic testimony said he thought the seriousness of the charges didn't match what had happened.
"It was just a mistake. We all make mistakes," one boy testified.But because the defendant had a previous assault conviction and because he faces trial next week on five additional felony charges involving sexual misconduct with two younger children, Nolan ordered the youth into custody.
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