By Deborah Quinn Hensel
HOUSTON (Reuters) - U.S. marshals in Houston captured a fugitive on Tuesday who was convicted of taking part in the gang rape of an 11-year-old Texas girl and who disappeared during a break in his trial, officials said.
Eric McGowen, 20, was convicted in absentia and sentenced to 99 years in prison after he failed to return to the courtroom on August 29. He was found and arrested Tuesday morning at an apartment complex in north Houston, according to Deputy Alfredo Perez of the U.S. Marshals Service.
"He was arrested without incident," Perez said. "He did not have a weapon."
McGowen was the first defendant of 14 adults and six juveniles to be tried for the repeated sexual assault of a child, which occurred over the course of three months in 2010. The case shocked residents of the small town of Cleveland, about 50 miles northeast of Houston.
The U.S. Marshals Service had teamed with the Liberty County Sheriff's Department and the Texas Rangers to track down McGowen.
"We didn't think he would go too far outside the area," Perez said.
Court documents show the girl told police she was picked up by three men in November 2010 and taken to an abandoned trailer where she was told she would be beaten up "by a gang of girls" if she did not engage in sexual activities with the men.
More men arrived and sexually assaulted the girl. Eventually, as many as 20 participated in the assault. The gang rape came to light after cellphone video of it surfaced.
(Editing By Corrie MacLaggan, Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)