Charges against 3 teens dropped

They were falsely accused of raping girl, 15, in school

Incident at Mount Hebron High

April 28, 2004|By Gus G. Sentementes, Lisa Goldberg and Tricia Bishop | Gus G. Sentementes, Lisa Goldberg and Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Closing a sensational case that has roiled Howard County for nearly two weeks, authorities formally dropped all charges yesterday against the three teen-agers they say were falsely accused of raping a 15-year-old girl in a bathroom at Mount Hebron High School.

As promised late last week, the state's attorney's office moved to dismiss the charges in Howard District Court late yesterday afternoon, shortly after the county police chief declared the investigation at an end.

"The police had their work cut out for them in terms of ferreting out the truth," said Howard State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone.

The dropping of the charges ended a 12-day ordeal for the three Ellicott City teens, who spent six days in jail before being released April 21.

The teens and their parents and lawyers expressed relief that the legal cloud over the youths has been lifted. But some remained angry about their treatment, suggesting that race had played a factor in how quickly authorities filed charges. The girl is white, as are most Mount Hebron students, and the three accused youths are black.

"They say you're innocent until proven guilty, but as black men in America, you're guilty until proven innocent," said Demitris Myrick, 18, one of the three accused teens. Officers "thought I was guilty as soon as I walked through the door."

McCrone and Police Chief G. Wayne Livesay defended their handling of the case, maintaining that the race of those involved did not affect the investigation.

Livesay said in an interview that he didn't learn of the race of the suspects until last week, when he saw one of their photos displayed in the news media. And he said he didn't learn of the girl's race until a community meeting Thursday night.

The girl's serious allegations, as well as early evidence and initial interviews with her and the three teens, justified the decision to charge them with several sex crimes, including rape, the chief said.

"It would not have been appropriate to send these young men home without charges, based on what we knew at the time," he said. "It's easy to look into a crystal ball now. We didn't have that then."

The rape allegations initially sowed widespread concern about student safety at the Ellicott City school, before prosecutors announced late last week that the girl had recanted her story and that they planned to drop all charges.

Police said it took a few days to conclude their investigation after McCrone announced Thursday the girl had withdrawn her accusations.

But the initial allegations cast a glaring light on Mount Hebron, a suburban high school where about 80 percent of students go on to two- and four-year colleges. The incident also triggered a harrowing, 12-day ordeal for the three teens who were arrested. Two of them are juveniles, but all were charged as adults because of the seriousness of the accusations.

Within hours of the reported rape, police launched a full-scale investigation. The girl told a teacher that she had been raped in school in the middle of the day, and the Ellicott City teens - Roderick D. Rudolph, 15, Christopher S. Berry, 16, and Myrick - were promptly arrested that day, charged early the next day and held in jail without bond.

The girl initially told investigators that one teen held her wrists, another undressed her and engaged in sex acts with her, and a third acted as a "lookout."

But by Wednesday, prosecutors said they had "an abundance of new information" that had changed the investigation. Police and prosecutors agreed to the release of each of the teens on bond to their parents.

Yesterday, in defending investigators' actions, Livesay noted that the girl had marks on her wrists - a previously undisclosed piece of evidence - which buttressed her claim that she had been held.

A five-hour medical examination at Howard County General Hospital determined that "there was evidence of trauma and sexual intercourse, which bolstered the [girl's] claim of rape," he said. The prosecutor later acknowledged, though, that the results were not inconsistent with consensual sex.

A critical factor, the police chief said, was the suspects' inconsistent accounts to investigators of the bathroom encounter. One changed his story and acknowledged engaging in a sexual act with the girl, after initially telling police he did not have any contact with her in the bathroom.

In charging documents, two of the teens admitted to investigators that they had engaged in sex acts with the girl, but she said she engaged in sex acts with one of the teens. One teen also acknowledged having had sex with her twice before in school.

"Did it catch our eye? Certainly," Livesay said, when asked about the discrepancy noted in the charging documents. "But you've got to look at the whole picture, not just one thing. ... She was consistent with her story. Consistent for a long time."

False rape reports to police are not uncommon. Last year, Howard County investigated 44 reported rapes, and seven were determined to be false.

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