JUDGE: MORE TIME AT BOOT CAMP
As a Pennsylvania prosecutor filed criminal charges on October 2, 2002, against three MephamHigh School football players accused of sexually assaulting younger teammates at a preseasontraining camp, a source familiar with the investigation said other, less violent hazing by the sameboys was pervasive during the trip. A parent of one junior varsity player said that over the courseof the weeklong camp in Preston Park, Pa., younger boys were sprayed with shaving cream, had powderand gel put in their eyes and hair, and had the hair ripped off their legs and buttocks with ducttape. Boys who tried to resist or considered telling, the parent said, were threatened with worsetreatment, a warning that carried powerful weight because many of the players knew of or hadwitnessed the alleged sexual assaults of their teammates.
At least two football players who have not been charged in the sexual assaults were involved invarious hazing incidents, including luring the victims to the cabin where they were attacked.Relatives and friends of one of the three players allegedly sodomized by the older teammates saythey planned a demonstration to persuade authorities to charge the three accused players as adults.Bearing signs that called for adult time for adult crime, 18 relatives and family friends of thevictims picketed in front of the Wayne County Courthouse. The demonstrators demanded that the threeolder players charged with sodomizing the junior varsity players with broomsticks, pinecones andgold balls be tried as adults and given stiff sentences.
The youngest of the three accused agreed to testify against the other two in exchange for hiscase remaining in juvenile court. The deal, which will not be complete unless Wayne CountyPresident Judge Robert J. Conway approves it, came on the eve of hearings before Conway todetermine whether the three, two aged 16 and one 17, should be tried as adults. The hearings wereclosed to the public. Conway ruled on November 12 that they will be tried as juveniles. Conway'sdecision, which was sealed, came after the closed-door hearing. The judge's decision shocked andenraged supporters and relatives of the victims.
Authorities are considering serious charges against at least two more football players in thealleged sexual assaults. The two players have been implicated by several boys who attended thecamp, including one of the three players already charged in the attacks. It was not specified howthe boys were involved in the attacks or what crimes are being considered, but they include firstdegree felonies.
Two players have agreed to admit to the most serious felony charges against them, includinginvoluntary deviate sexual intercourse. The admissions were made before Conway in closedhearings.
It only took a day for the hazing to turn into torture. And every day it got worse, escalatinginto a series of increasingly cruel sexual and physical assaults that lasted until the camp wasover. Boys were repeatedly sodomized, forced to sexually assault each other and shout racial slurs,creating a culture of terror for junior varsity boys who feared they would be next.
All three have admitted to participating in the attacks. At their hearings, Conway will considerseveral factors, including written impact statements or testimony from the victims and theirfamilies, before deciding what should happen to the three players. The options range from probationto confinement in a treatment facility until they are 21.
A fourth Mepham player has been charged in the sexual assault of his teammates. The player, asophomore on the junior varsity squad, surrendered on January 22 at the Honesdale, Pa., statepolice barracks. He was fingerprinted and released to his family pending a court date to enter aplea. He was charged as a juvenile with three felonies. The specific charges were unavailable. Hehas an 8 p.m. curfew and is being monitored by a tracking device.
The first two players remain in Pennsylvania juvenile facilities and the third is servingprobation on Long Island. As part of their sentences, they cannot return to Mepham without theconsent of Wayne County President Judge Robert J. Conway.
Bellmore-Merrick school officials asked Pennsylvania prosecutors to share the evidence reviewedby a grand jury that criticized the coaches supervising at the camp. Superintendent Thomas Caramoresaid while he found the grand jury's report disturbing, the district cannot bring any schoolofficial up on disciplinary charges based solely on the panel's findings.
According to the scathing report from the Pennsylvania grand jury, the Mepham High Schoolfootball coaches were “more concerned with being coaches of a football team than interested inthe well-being of the players.” The grand jury, in an eight-page report that included graphicdetails, also criticized the school district, the Pennsylvania juvenile justice system and thejudge who refused to try the players accused in the attacks as adults.
Mepham High School Principal John Diden told the parents of two of the football players who weresexually assaulted that he had received reports of hazing in the past and personally warned theteam to stop, the boys' mothers said yesterday. The mothers, interviewed after lawsuits against theschool district and others were filed yesterday in State Supreme Court, said it was clear when theyfirst reported the attacks that school officials were aware of prior hazing involving the footballteam.
Saying they are victims of a witch-hunt, the four former coaches insisted they could not havepredicted or prevented the sexual assaults. The coaches, who lost their football posts and teachingpositions also demanded their jobs back and an apology from the school district.
Meanwhile, the oldest of the players will remain in a juvenile boot camp for at least anotherthree months. Conway ordered the 17 year old back to the Northwestern Academy Boot Camp inShamokin, Pennsylvania where he has been since he was sentenced in January.
Conway also reviewed the case of the 16 year old junior who has been serving probation on LongIsland for the past four months and that boy will remain on probation at least another sixmonths.
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