Two Morristown teens accused of gang-raping a woman when they all were 17 will face charges as adults, a judge ruled on Friday.
The defendants, both 19 now, each could face 20 years in prison if convicted of aggravated sexual assault. The maximum penalties they would have faced as juveniles would have been four years.
Bail for each was set at $100,000 with no 10 percent option, according to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.
They are accused of raping the woman in a vehicle after she had passed out from drinking. A third defendant, Tyrec Phillips, 19, already has been charged as an adult. He was released on $150,000 bail last fall.
While noting inconsistencies in the alleged victim’s testimony, Superior Court Judge Michael Paul Wright said he was persuaded by a “damning” phone call between her and one of the defendants.
That call, recorded by police and played during the “probable cause” hearing, corroborated enough details of the woman’s account to create a “well rounded suspicion” that a first-degree crime had occurred on Sept. 4, 2011, the judge said. Burdens of proof are less stringent in probable cause hearings than in jury trials.
Over the phone, the defendant acknowledged having sex with the woman and informed her that the others also had sex with her, even though she had so much to drink that her body was “not cooperating” with them. During the conversation he apologized for “taking advantage” of her.
The woman, who waited eight months to report the alleged attack to authorities, testified that she willingly drank alcohol that was offered to her. It was a mix of Captain Morgan rum, vodka, orange juice and Coke, according to testimony by another defendant.
At some point after drinking this, the woman fell to the floor. She became so sick that someone gave her a trash barrel to vomit in, according to testimony recounted by the judge.
At the hearing, which spanned several days in December and January, the woman testified that she blacked out during the alleged assault and awoke to find one of the defendants on top of her, having sex. When she tried to make him stop, he knocked her elbow down, she said.
She never mentioned that aspect to police, a point noted by defense lawyers when they attempted to characterize the encounter as consensual sex involving a woman who later regretted her actions.
“There were serious and substantial inconsistencies” in her testimony, Randy Davenport, a lawyer representing one of the defendants, said after Friday’s ruling. “Once this gets to a jury, I am certain this case will result in a finding of not guilty for my client.”
Dean Maglione, representing the other defendant in Friday’s matter, echoed that statement and predicted both youths would post bail before the weekend.
The defense lawyers have contended there is no evidence that the sex was forced–an element they deem essential for the prosecution to prove aggravated sexual assault.
Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Samantha DeNegri has countered that the woman was too intoxicated to give consent. The judge agreed.
The two defendants have been held since August in Morris County’s juvenile detention center, and that’s where Randy Davenport wanted his client to stay while bail matters were sorted out. But Judge Wright said he could not keep an adult there, and so the pair were to be transferred to the Morris County Jail.
Bail was set by Superior Court Judge Robert Gilson.