ICYMI: The latest on the Ooltewah rape trial
SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (AP / CBS News / WDEF) – A judge rejected prosecutors’ bid to have one of three Tennessee high school basketball players charged with raping a teammate transferred from juvenile to adult court.
Sevier County Judge Dwight Stokes cited the teen’s lack of prior legal trouble as well as testimony and a psychological evaluation indicating the defendant was remorseful. Stokes also noted during a hearing Tuesday that studies showed juveniles have a much better chance of rehabilitation if they aren’t transferred to adult court.
Prosecutors described the teen, now 18 years old, as a leader in the “aggressive, pre-meditated and horrific attack.”
He is one of three Ooltewah High School players facing aggravated rape charges after they allegedly assaulted a freshman teammate during a hazing incident on Dec. 22. Police say the boy required emergency surgery after older teammates held him down and assaulted him with a pool cue at a Gatlinburg cabin while Ooltewah was participating in a holiday tournament.
The freshman testified Tuesday that he was held down by two other teammates while the 18-year-old — who was 17 at the time — used the pool cue on him.
“I was like, ‘No, no,'” the freshman said. “I just kept repeating, ‘No.'”
All three of the older players were charged in Sevier County as juveniles with the rape of one teammate, though the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office has indicated four freshman players were assaulted during that trip. Police have said in the last instance, the pool cue tore through a freshman’s clothing and into his rectum, forcing the emergency surgery.
The freshman’s mother said her son was in the hospital for nearly a week.
Prosecutors noted these types of incidents have become a national issue and said transferring the 18-year-old to adult court could serve as an effective deterrent.
“It’s about rehabilitation and getting juveniles back on the right track. This behavior needs to be deterred. The way to do it is to handle it in the adult system,” Assistant District Attorney General Rolfe Straussfogel said.
Jeff Stern, the 18-year-old’s lawyer, said the freshman’s injuries were “completely unintentional and accidental in nature.” Stern said his client’s history indicates “this was clearly a one-time isolated incident.”
Two of the other three players who said they were assaulted also testified about the alleged hazing and their mothers criticized Stokes’ ruling.
“I’m just disgusted that they’re going to leave this in juvenile court, considering his age and what he has done,” one mother said. “I guess he would have had to have killed somebody to be tried as an adult.”
The Associated Press does not identify victims of sexual assault, and is not naming the mothers to avoid identifying their children. The names of the players facing charges haven’t been released because it’s a juvenile case.
Rodney Burns, a Gatlinburg detective, said the defendant was remorseful in an interview with police.
“I do believe he felt remorse for what had happened,” Burns said. “He told me he didn’t mean to hurt” the hospitalized freshman.
Burns and Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston have publicly clashed over this case, and Burns filed a $300,000 defamation claim Tuesday.
This case also has roiled the Hamilton County school system. The Ooltewah basketball coach, an assistant and the athletic director have pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to report the abuse to the proper authorities. Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith announced he was stepping aside Monday amid the controversy.
News 12 Now has previously reported that under Tennessee’s mandatory reporting law, all three are required to report any suspected child sexual abuse to the state Department of Children’s Services, the sheriff of the county in which the children reside, the police chief of the municipality in which the children reside or the juvenile court judge with jurisdiction over the child.
As part of the case against the school officials, Burns testified in Hamilton County last month that the assault was “something stupid that kids do” and only “happened” to fit the definition of rape.
Two days later, the district attorney announced he was directing the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to probe the detective’s “perjurious” testimony.
According to Burns’ defamation claim, the allegation that he lied under oath is a threat to his reputation as an officer.