SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A judge rejected prosecutors' bid to have one of three Tennessee high school basketball players charged with raping a teammate transferred from juvenile to adult criminal court.
Sevier County Judge Dwight Stokes cited the teen's lack of prior legal trouble as well as testimony and a psychological evaluation indicating the defendant was remorseful. Stokes also noted during a hearing Tuesday that studies showed juveniles have a much better chance of rehabilitation if they aren't transferred to adult court.
"The likelihood of adult court being anything other than a very negative situation for the defendant is practically nil," Stokes said.
Prosecutors described the teen, now 18 years old, as a leader in the "aggressive, pre-meditated and horrific attack."
He is one of three Ooltewah High School players facing aggravated rape charges after they allegedly assaulted a freshman teammate during a hazing incident on Dec. 22. Police say the boy required emergency surgery after they held him down and assaulted him with a pool cue at a Gatlinburg cabin while the team was participating in a holiday tournament.
All three players were charged as juveniles with the rape of one teammate, though the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office has indicated four freshman players were assaulted during that trip. Gatlinburg is located in Sevier County.
Jeff Stern, the teen's lawyer, said the freshman's injuries were "completely unintentional and accidental in nature." Stern cited his client's lack of criminal history indicates "this was clearly a one-time isolated incident."
Prosecutors noted these types of incidents have become a national issue and said transferring the defendant to adult court could serve as an effective deterrent.
"The juvenile justice system is not set up to deal with deterrence," Assistant District Attorney General Rolfe Straussfogel said. "It's about rehabilitation and getting juveniles back on the right track. This behavior needs to be deterred. The way to do it is to handle it in the adult system."
The incident has roiled the school system. Ooltewah basketball coach Andre Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and athletic director Allard Naiade have pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to report the abuse to the proper authorities. Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith announced he was stepping aside Monday amid the controversy.
The names of the players facing charges haven't been released because they are juveniles.