HONESDALE, Pa. – Supporters of students allegedly victimized in a brutal football camp sexual assault expressed outrage after a judge apparently ordered the older boys accused of carrying out the hazing to be tried as juveniles rather than adults.
Wayne County President Judge Robert J. Conway (search) ordered his decision Wednesday sealed. But reaction outside the courthouse suggested that he decided against trying the three students from Mepham High School (search) in Bellmore, N.Y., as adults.
Some relatives and other supporters of the alleged victims lashed out in angry condemnation of the judge and the justice system as tears and hugs were shared.
"What a message he's sending to America, he's telling juveniles to come to Pennsylvania to commit a crime," Kris Reichstein, mother of a Mepham student, who traveled to the hearing in support of the alleged victims.
David Woycik (search), an attorney for one of the alleged victims, said he could not talk about the hearing, but told an aunt of one of the alleged victims, "This thing is not over, the judge can keep them under detention here for a long time, until they're 21."
Wayne County District Attorney Mark Zimmer (search) said the judge ordered him not to disclose the ruling under penalty of contempt. He declined to comment further.
The three Long Island students, ages 16 and 17, had been charged with numerous felonies for allegedly sodomizing younger teammates with broomsticks, pine cones and golf balls as part of a hazing ritual during a weeklong summer training camp in August in Preston Park (search), about 125 miles north of Philadelphia.
Prosecutors had asked that the students be tried in adult court, where they could face prison sentences if convicted.
About 50 supporters of the alleged victims gathered outside the courthouse in Honesdale on Wednesday, some wearing green ribbons and holding signs with slogans including, "Prison, not probation," and "Sodomy doesn't equal probation."
After Woycik shared with reporters Wednesday evening that the judge ordered the decision sealed, one relative shouted, "Because he doesn't want a lynch mob!"
In the first emotional moments after learning of the decision, an aunt of an alleged victim, who wished to be identified only as Sue, shouted at Woycik: "You are not doing your job, just like the school district didn't. You're just as guilty as they are!"
Carol, another aunt of an alleged victim, said the accused teenagers would be "laughing all the way to Long Island."
Woycik earlier in the day said a plea deal had been proposed that would have allowed one of the three accused to be tried as a juvenile in exchange for testimony against the other two teenagers. Sue, the relative, said that teen will testify against the other two, although it wasn't clear what deal he had been given, if any.
Woycik said criminal hearings would be held in the coming weeks and he would pursue a civil case against the school district.
Relatives said the three alleged victims' mothers testified during the hearing, which began in the early afternoon. The three alleged victims did not testify. The judge relied on written depositions from them.
The team's head coach, Kevin McElroy (search), did not speak to reporters after emerging from the courthouse.
After the allegations became public, the Bellmore-Merrick school board canceled the team's season. It has since informed McElroy and four other football coaches that they will not participate in the athletic program next year.
McElroy has said neither he nor his assistants knew of the accusations until five days after returning from camp.