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Maryland prosecutors said they will drop rape and sex offense charges

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Article from Washington Post

Maryland prosecutors said they will drop rape and sex offense charges against two immigrant teens accused of attacking a 14-year-old classmate in a high school bathroom stall in a case that shocked local parents, attracted international and White House attention and stoked the debate about illegal crossings into the U.S.

After a court hearing Friday morning, prosecutors said they will drop the sex assault case against Henry Sanchez Milian, 18, and Jose Montano, 17, who was ordered released from custody.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said at a press conference that “the original charges cannot be sustained and prosecution is untenable” because of “substantial inconsistencies” from witnesses.

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McCarthy, who was joined by the county’s top leaders, said the decision to dismiss the charges followed an extensive investigation that included additional interviews and a review of medical records, school security videos, and phone and computer records.

“As prosecutors we always go where the evidence takes us…regardless of public opinion or political pressures,” McCarthy said, without taking questions from reporters.

Maryland prosecutors say facts don’t support charges filed in school rape case

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Prosecutors said their investigation found that there wasn’t evidence to sustain rape and sex offense charges against two teens accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student at Rockville High School. (WUSA)

Defense lawyers for both defendants have said for weeks that the sex acts were consensual and that text messages and school surveillance videos did not substantiate the girl’s claims she had been pushed from a hallway into a bathroom at Rockville High School on March 16 where the suspects took turns assaulting her in a stall as she tried to break free.

Prosecutors had signaled in an early court proceeding in the case that they were having challenges corroborating events the girl described to Montgomery County Police detectives and that led to the arrests of Sanchez Milian and Montano.

The severity of the reported assault and the fact the two accused teens had entered the U.S. illegally only months earlier drew heated comments from the White House, in the State House and among demonstrators, callers and emailers who weighed in with the county.

Sanchez Milian’s attorney Andrew Jezic said he was grateful when he was told Thursday the county planned to drop the rape case.

Even as prosecutors moved to dismiss the rape cases, they are pursuing separate child pornography charges related to images discovered during the course of the investigation, according to court records and defense attorneys.

Jezic called such charges “selective prosecution of elective promiscuity,” adding that “it is hardly uncommon behavior for teenagers.”

The child pornography allegations, Jezic said, involved lewd images on Sanchez Milian’s cellphone, which Jezic said had been sent by the girl to Montano who forwarded them to Sanchez Milian.

Spicer reacts to Rockville High School rape case

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White House press secretary Sean Spicer on March 21 said the rape of a 14-year-old girl at Rockville High School was “horrendous, and horrible, and disgusting.” (Reuters)

Montano’s attorney Maria Mena said prosecutors told her Montano would be charged in juvenile court with two counts each of possession and distribution of child pornography.

She said prosecutors “did the right thing” by dropping the most serious charges, but called the subsequent child pornography charges a “gross misapplication” of a law intended to go after adults.

“I do feel what they are doing now is egregious,” she said, noting some of the images now being used as the base of a pornography charges are images discovered during the investigation that helped exonerate her client.

In the immediate wake of the arrests, local police were prompted to speak about the merits of their investigation as defense attorneys asserted the encounter was consensual.

“This was a brutal attack,” Montgomery Police Chief Tom Manger said on March 22. “I am confident that we have a strong case.”

That case became explosive as political factions seized on its volatile mix of crime and illegal immigration.

Montano came to the U.S. from El Salvador, and Sanchez Milian from Guatemala. They were stopped at the border, detained, then allowed to continue on to relatives before they enrolled in Rockville at a ninth grade level.

“Part of the reason that the president has made illegal immigration and crackdown such a big deal is because of tragedies like this … Immigration pays its toll on our people if it’s not done legally, and this is another example,” Spicer said.

The White House press office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

In Annapolis, politicians referred to the case in denouncing legislation that would have limited cooperation between local police and immigration authorities; the legislation was defeated weeks later.

Immigration advocates and the county schools superintendent publicly spoke out about the charges, voicing horror and regret and also saying politicians should not judge immigrant children seeking a better life for themselves by the disturbing case. “We are a public school system, and we serve all of our students when they come to us,” Schools Superintendent Jack Smith said.

Sanchez Milian’s father, Adolfo Sanchez-Reyes, was drawn into the rippling effects of the investigation when immigration agents looking into the suspects’ backgrounds concluded the father was in the country illegally and placed him in custody. His immigration case is pending, said his attorney, Himedes V. Chicas.

It was not immediately clear what immigration consequences may await the two teens. After the hearing, Mena told Montano’s family members that ICE agents were at the courthouse monitoring the case. She said she would fight any efforts to deport Montano.

“We’re going to fight this all the way to the end,” she told the family members

According to the defense lawyers, the day before the incident, the girl and Montano, exchanged explicit text messages and images about planning to have sex in the school. Video from school cameras showed Montano and the girl walked together into the bathroom at the time of the incident, according to the attorneys, who also said the girl’s account of events was not consistent as the investigation progressed.

“At no point did the girl express any reluctance with any sex acts,” said Jezic. “From the night before, she actively planned a sexual encounter.”

Detectives described a harrowing attack in the affidavits they filed for the rape arrests.

On March 16, they had been called to the school after the 14-year-old girl told a staff member she’d been raped. The detectives spoke to the girl, who according to their affidavits, told them she knew Montano, and they had been talking in a school hallway that morning.

She said he asked to have sex and when she refused, pushed her into a boys’ bathroom and pulled her into a stall, according to the police affidavits. Sanchez Milian then entered the stall, according to girl’s account in the affidavit, and both raped her as she cried out and told them to stop.

Montano “denied having any sexual contact with [the victim]. Montano stated they went into the bathroom to tell jokes,” detectives wrote after talking with him.

They also spoke with Sanchez Milian who “initially stated nothing happened,” the police affidavits state, “then changed his statement multiple times and admitted having sex with the victim with his friend Montano.”

Faced with the choice of filing charges, or not arresting the suspects as an investigation continued, the police brought charges. Hours later, the two teens were locked in the Montgomery County Detention Center.

Prosecutors took over the case and as they reviewed text messages, found there may have been an agreement between Montano and the girl that they would have sex. They also looked into whether Montano and Sanchez Milian — in text messages — had plotted to turn the planned encounter into a rape.

At a court hearing March 30 over setting bond, Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Herdman told a judge evidence was being discovered daily — some of it bolstering the accusations and some not. At that point of the investigation, though, she said text messages between the suspects showed they had at a minimum planned to commit a crime.

“This was clearly a conspiracy between this defendant and the co-defendant to get this victim into that bathroom and rape her and commit other sexual assaults against her,” Herdman said in court.

Prosecutors considered pursuing a case of statutory rape, which holds that a victim is so young he or she cannot legally consent. To make such a case under Maryland law with a victim who is 14, the suspects must be a full four years older, according to Jezic and other attorneys in the state.

In this case, Montano, at 17, was not four years older than the girl. And Sanchez Milian, who is a relatively young 18, also was not a full fours older than the girl.

Jezic said he knows many people who followed the case will question that group sex in a high school bathroom could be consensual.

“It does seem improbable, if you are a person who is not connected to contemporary high school culture,” he said.

On Friday, Smith, the superintendent, issued a statement assuring parents that the school system is continuing its review of safety procedures.

“Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Rockville High School community, particularly the female student who has been at the center of this. I know that the staff and students remain focused on healing as a community and ending this school year “Rockville Strong.”’

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