PHOENIX – A Liberian teenager charged as an adult in the gang rape of an 8-year-old girl from the same country pleaded not guilty on Monday.
The 14-year-old appeared by video for the hearing in Phoenix, wearing a jail uniform. An interpreter translated the proceedings for him.
Commissioner Brian Rees set an initial pretrial conference for Sept. 21.
Phoenix police say the 14-year-old and three other boys ages 10 to 13 lured the girl to an empty storage shed July 16 with the promise of chewing gum, then restrained and raped her.
The 14-year-old is the only one charged as an adult -- with one count each of kidnapping, sexual assault and attempted sexual conduct with a minor, and five counts of sexual conduct with a minor.
The case ignited an international outcry after Phoenix police reported the girl's father said the family was ashamed of her and didn't want her back, which led Child Protective Services to take custody of her. Family advocates say the comments were the result of a language barrier and that the girl's family desperate wants her back.
The case led Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to send Liberia's deputy ambassador to the U.S. on a five-day fact-finding mission in Phoenix during which he met with the victim, the families of all the children involved, police, childcare workers and prosecutors.
Deputy Ambassador Edwin Sele said the girl "cried so bitterly that I almost cried" during their meeting, and that the best thing for her is to be reunited with her family as soon as possible.
Child Protective Services is still investigating, and officials have not said when or if the girl will be returned to her parents.
Prosecutors are seeking adult charges against the 13-year-old accused in the case, while two 10-year-olds are charged in juvenile court with sexual conduct; one of them also is charged with kidnapping.