LIBERTY, Texas – Jurors on Thursday sentenced a man convicted of taking part in the repeated sexual assault of a middle school student to 99 years in prison.
Eric McGowen wasn't in court when jurors found him guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child or later when they returned with the sentence. The 20-year-old had been free on bail and he skipped out during a break in proceedings Wednesday, the first day of testimony.
The judge issued an arrest warrant for McGowen Wednesday and allowed testimony to resume Thursday. Jurors returned with the guilty verdict after deliberating for about 20 minutes. Then, after brief court proceedings on his punishment, they decided his sentence in less than 30 minutes.
Prosecutors say the girl, who was 11 years old at the time, was sexually assaulted on at least five occasions from mid-September through early December of 2010 by 20 men and boys from her town, Cleveland, which is about 45 miles northeast of Houston.
Police began investigating after one of the girl's classmates told a teacher he saw video of her being sexually assaulted in an abandoned trailer.
All six of the juveniles and two of the 14 adults charged in the case pleaded guilty. McGowen was the first defendant to stand trial. He faced a minimum sentence of 25 years prison and a maximum of life.
McGowen was in court Wednesday when the girl, now 13, spoke about her ordeal. Testifying using a pseudonym, she told jurors about an encounter in October 2010 and one the following month in which she said McGowen and several other men and boys took turns sexually assaulting her while recording the encounters on video.
The girl briefly broke down in tears as jurors were shown a few minutes of video of the alleged sexual assault in October 2010.
She described another encounter that November that started in a different Cleveland home and continued at a nearby abandoned trailer. She told jurors that McGowen assaulted her with a beer bottle during that incident.