Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Accused trio return to school

Court won't bar boys facing sex charges

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Three 14-year-old boys charged in an alleged sexual assault of three female classmates will check in as freshmen today at Mason High School.

        Amid protests from prosecutors, a Warren County judge refused Monday to overturn a magistrate's recent order allowing the boys to return to class.

        The teens were barred from attending Mason Middle School after the March 11 incident and agreed instead to be tutored at home. Two of the girls are enrolled at the high school this year. A third withdrew from the school district.

        Common Pleas Judge P. Daniel Fedders' decision came two days after Juvenile Magistrate Joe Kirby approved the teens' admission to the high school.

        Within hours, prosecutors appealed the order, saying that circumstances had not changed since last school year, and that there was no guarantee the boys wouldn't have contact with the girls.

        During an emergency hearing Monday, Judge Fedders disagreed, saying the boys should be given a chance.

        He noted that the high school student body was nearly twice the size of the middle school, presenting less of a chance for the five students to mix.

        The boys, who remain on house arrest, are barred from having contact with one another or with the girls.

        In addition, Judge Fedders said he spoke to school officials and received assurances that a special plan — to put the students on different buses and in different classrooms — was workable.

        “We have to keep in mind that so far, despite the media frenzy of last spring, these three children have not yet been found guilty of anything,” Judge Fedders said.

        “We don't know if they are guilty of anything, and if they are guilty of something, we don't know for sure just what that is — whether it's a major matter or a relatively minor thing.”

        Authorities allege the girls were sexually assaulted after they became intoxicated and invited the boys over to one of the girls' homes for two hours while her mother was shopping.

        The boys are charged with a variety of offenses, including sexual battery, rape and complicity to those crimes.

        School officials have stayed neutral on the issue of the boys' return, and said they will do whatever the court orders. By law, a district cannot discipline a student for alleged criminal acts that occur off-campus or are not connected to a school activity.

        “I don't anticipate we will do anything differently. The kids will be separated to the best of our ability,” said district spokeswoman Shelly Benesh.

        The trial of one of the boys resumes Wednesday in juvenile court, when the defense is expected to begin its side of the case. The two other boys — who recently accepted plea agreements, then withdrew them — are set for a three-day trial beginning Sept. 6.


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