LIBERTY, Texas – A 13-year-old Texas girl who authorities say was repeated sexually assaulted by 20 men and boys during a series of attacks two years ago cried Wednesday as a video of one of the encounters was played for jurors in the first case to go to trial.
The girl, testifying under a pseudonym, told the jury that 20-year-old defendant Eric McGowen and another man charged in the case took her to a house in Cleveland, a small Southeast Texas town where all the defendants and the girl lived, in October 2010. The girl, who was an 11-year-old at the time, said she was brought into what she described as the "baby room" in the house, and that several men or boys took turns having sex with her, including McGowen.
McGowen, one of 14 adults accused of having sex with the girl during a nearly three-month span, is charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child and faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors played a few minutes of a video in which they say a third man charged in the case was sexually assaulting the girl. The girl testified that McGowen was in the room at the time. The girl cried as the video was played and several jurors turned away from it.
"Did the guys just take turns with you?" prosecutor Joe Warren asked.
"Yes sir," the girl said.
Prosecutors say the girl was assaulted on at least five occasions from mid-September through early December of 2010.
Eight of the 20 defendants accused in the case have pleaded guilty, including all six juveniles. A gag order has prevented prosecutors and defense attorneys from commenting about the case.
Authorities began investigating that December after one of the girl's friends told a teacher he watched a cellphone video of her being raped in an abandoned trailer.
The case sparked outrage in Cleveland, a community of roughly 9,000 residents 45 miles northeast of Houston. Some residents drew widespread condemnation for suggesting the girl was partly responsible because they say she wore makeup, looked older than her age and wasn't properly supervised by her parents.
The case also has been complicated by a belief among many in the predominantly black neighborhood where several of the suspects live that the arrests were racially motivated. All of the suspects are black, while the girl is Hispanic.
The trial is being held in nearby Liberty, the county seat.
On Tuesday, McGowen was dealt a setback when state District Judge Mark Morefield ruled that prosecutors could admit as evidence a videotaped police interview of McGowen in which he admitted he and eight other men took turns having sex with the girl, sometimes two at a time, the Houston Chronicle reported.
In the video, which was played in court without the jury present, McGowen initially denied ever touching the girl, but he later broke down and told investigators she performed oral sex on him. He said one of the others used a beer bottle on her, the paper reported.
Some of those present for the alleged attack made videos or took cellphone photos, McGowen said. Reporters weren't allowed in the courtroom when that footage was played.
McGowen's lawyer, Matthew Poston, sought unsuccessfully to have McGowen's statements to investigators deemed inadmissible, arguing that police had an arrest warrant for his client but hadn't served it when he was brought to the station for questioning, the paper reported.
Warren pointed out that McGowen was advised of his rights on video before he was questioned.
One of the two adults who pleaded guilty in the case received a 15-year prison term and the other is awaiting sentencing. The six juveniles each received 7-year prison terms that were suspended, putting them on probation for that amount of time.
Most of the adult defendants in the case face charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child, while four face a charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child