Oklahoma Gang-Rape Trial Opens
%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:; AUDIO:%)
DUNCAN, Okla. (AP) _ High school football is king in this rural prairie town, so when five stars of the hometown team were charged with gang-raping a 14-year-old girl outside the stadium, it seemed like everybody’s business.
Now that the first trial in the case is under way, supporters of the boys say have been treated unfairly because of their race. Others say they are getting off too easy because of their athletic prowess.
``I really don’t know how these boys are going to get a fair trial in Stephens County,″ said Ronald Boyd, reverend of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, where two of the boys are members. ``I think a lot of people jumped to conclusions that they were guilty right away. It caused a lot of tension among the people, among the students at school.″
Four of the teenagers are black and one is Hispanic. Two pleaded guilty and plan to testify against their friends. The trial for a third began Monday with jury selection. Prosecutors plan to try the two other boys separately.
The girl, an American Indian from nearby Comanche, knew the football stars. She told authorities she was near a concession stand at an all-star football game last fall at Halliburton Stadium when two of the boys, 17-year-old Zachary Smith and 16-year-old Daschion Scott, coaxed her to a car in the parking lot.
Aaron Rochelle, 17, and Timon Kirk, 18, then shoved her into the back seat, holding her arms and legs as they took turns assaulting her, said Kyle Boehm, a former Duncan police investigator. Mario Flowers, 18, later took a turn, Boehm said.
The boys, all starters on the Duncan team _ including quarterback Rochelle _ played their last football game of the season the day after the alleged rape on Nov. 8.
On Friday nights, the stands at Halliburton Stadium are packed with fans of the Duncan Demons, who have played for the state championship nine times in 25 years, winning six titles. The stadium is named for the oil-field services giant Halliburton, the largest employer in this southwestern Oklahoma town of 22,000.
Some believe the boys, suspended from school for nine days, got off too easy. School officials told police they could not impose harsher punishments because the all-star game was not at a school-sponsored event.
Black community leaders said the boys were judged prematurely because of the color of their skin. Boyd, who organized a defense fund that raised about $1,000 for the boys, said he believes the sex was consensual. Others in town, including students, wrote letters to the court saying they believed the girl was lying.
``It was a racial thing. It had to be,″ Boyd said. ``Some felt that we were condoning what they did. That’s not it. We were looking at the financial struggle that most of these parents and grandparents were going through.″
Scott, Smith and Flowers are prevented by conditions of their bail from getting involved in any extracurricular activities this year, including football. Without them, and the two who remain in jail pending their testimony, many in town are grumbling about the Demons’ 1-6 record this fall.
``It seemed like the only organizations or people that were supporting the girl were the district attorney’s office, the police department and Women’s Haven,″ a women’s shelter in Duncan, said Boehm, who left the police force after weeks as the lead investigator on the case. ``I just admire the girl’s courage.″
Duncan High School Principal Steve Cleveland said he disagrees with those who have tried to make the case about race, since the girl is a minority herself. Duncan’s population includes about 900 Indians and 900 blacks.
``This is a very tough case because it involves young boys and a young girl,″ said John Stuart, Scott’s attorney. ``It involves the high school and the community.″
In a plea bargain, Kirk and Rochelle will spend up to five years in a juvenile detention facility. The other boys also were charged as juveniles; if convicted, they could be held in a juvenile center until at least age 21 and could go to an adult prison after that.