HOUSTON – Two of the boys accused of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old Liberty County girl have pleaded guilty. A third is waiting for his plea deal to be approved by a judge, according to Liberty County prosecutor Wesley Hinch.
Hinch is assigned to the cases of six juveniles charged in the case. Because of a gag order, he could not discuss details of the plea deals, though each involves some punishment and rehabilitation.
"We're working to ensure the protection of the public and the rehabilitation of these young men," Hinch said.
Fourteen adults are also charged with gang-raping the girl in an abandoned trailer in Cleveland last year. Authorities said the girl was assaulted on at least five occasions from mid-September to early December at the trailer – sometimes by as many as seven or eight suspects at a time.
The case has divided many in the Liberty County town.
"This poor girl this happened to, I can't imagine how she feels," said Cleveland resident Brenda Burnett. "You know, what it might have done to her mentally."
"I think she looked for it," said Carolina Garza, who went to school with the victim."It was coming for her... She was always trying to be like that with the guys."
The youngest defendant in the case is in middle school, and the oldest is 27.
Many of the defendants in the case have already pleaded not guilty.
Burnett hopes others will come forward and admit guilt.
"I think if they did it, they need to come forth and say they did it and get it all cleared out," Brenda Burnett said. "Let everybody get on with their lives because I’m sure she [the victim] needs some sort of closure in her life."
The investigation began in December of 2010, after one of the girl’s friends told a teacher he had seen a lurid cell phone video that showed the girl being raped. The case became public after the first arrests were made in February of 2011.
Most of the adult suspects face charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child, but four have been charged with continuous sexual abuse of a child.
The case shined a sometimes unflattering spotlight on Cleveland after some in the town of about 9,000 residents suggested the girl was culpable in part for what happened, claiming she wore makeup and looked older. Some also accused her parents, immigrants from Mexico, of not watching her more closely. Those suggestions were sharply criticized by many Cleveland residents and by community and religious groups outside the city.
Also complicating the case was a belief by many in the predominantly black neighborhood where several of the suspects live that the arrests were racially motivated. All of the suspects are black, while the girl is Hispanic.
In an April 2011 interview with KHOU 11 News, the victim’s mother said the family received threatening phone calls after police started making arrests.
"The last call that I got is like, b----. you ain’t gonna live too long, or something like that," she said.
The mother said her daughter was placed in foster care after the charges were filed. The mother said CPS told her that she and her husband would have to get counseling before they would have a chance to get their daughter back.
"I don’t think I need it; I don’t see why I need it," she said.
The mother admitted that her daughter disobeyed them by sneaking out of the house late at night, but said she’s really a good, smart kid.
"She’s been doing good in school. Of course, she has always done good in school. In Cleveland, she was in GT classes," the mother said.