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Press Conference on Hazing Assault Case

Aired October 6, 2003 - 12:29   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Some news just coming in to us now from Wayne County, Pennsylvania. We are following a story there, which we've been telling you about.
Ten criminal charges were filed against three New York high school football players following a terrible incident that happened this summer involving sodomizing some high school football players. The Wayne County district attorney is Mark Zimmer. He is preparing to hold a news conference, and he's walking away from the microphones right now.

Maria Hinojosa is watching this story from New York. The high school players were visiting there at a summer camp.

Maria -- why don't you give us the background of the story, while we wait for the district attorney?

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, what we know right now is that some time in August there, it's called basically a training camp for the football players. And allegedly what happened is that there were three men, three young men -- 15, 16 and 17 years old -- who allegedly sodomized three other junior varsity football players.

What we heard when we got the charges on Thursday was that the acts included -- involved the use of threats, beatings and sexual assaults, which included the use of foreign objects with mineral ice on them. The foreign objects that these three teenagers, two of them 14 years old, one of them 13 years old, a golf ball, a pine cone, a broomstick.

A lot of this didn't come out immediately, Miles, because there appears to have been something of a wall of silence, a tremendous amount of fear on the part of these young football players to come forward. Only when one of them apparently had to go -- continued to bleed several days after the incident happened did this all come to light.

The parents then went to the school, brought this up, and this is where it's now evolved into a place where we heard on Thursday of these young men being charged with 10 counts -- 10 different charges, rather, as juveniles. Those charges, Miles, including involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, kidnapping, terrorist threats, criminal coercion and ethnic intimidation.

O'BRIEN: Maria, the D.A. is speaking right now. Let's go to Mark Zimmer, and then we'll get back to you, OK?


MARK ZIMMER, WAYNE COUNTY D.A.: ... Long Island, New York have been charged with juvenile delinquency here in Wayne County, Pennsylvania. I scheduled this news conference for the purpose of informing you of my decision regarding whether I would make a motion to the court to have any or all of these individuals certified to be tried as adults in the criminal justice system.

I am today filing motions to certify all three of these cases to the adult system. In making this decision, I have spoken with the investigators and reviewed the information that they have provided. I have spoken with the parents of the victims. I have consulted with my staff and with members of the Wayne County Probation Department.

I reviewed the records that have been provided to me via subpoena from the Mepham High School. I have also talked with the attorneys for the various juveniles charged in this matter. And finally, I have been guided by the juvenile code of Pennsylvania.

I have several reasons for making the decision I make today. Among them are the following, and they are in no particular order of importance.

The crimes themselves, as I have said before, are so horrific. If these cases were in the criminal justice system today, one of the defendants would be charged with 26 felonies, and the other two defendants with 15 felonies each. In addition, there would be multiple counts of misdemeanors that would also be charged.

All three of the defendants in this case are over the age of 14. Although the youngest was 15 at the time of the acts, he turned 16 a week later. This means that in their home state of New York, two out of three of these individuals were adults at the time that the acts were committed, all three are adults now.

The outrageousness of the conduct in the case exhibits a degree of sophistication on the part of the perpetrators. I say that because this was not one isolated event at this camp. Rather, as the investigation continues, it appears there was a pattern of activity that took place over a period of days involving multiple victims.

The impact of these crimes, and what they impact has been on the school and the community which it serves, is obvious, even to those of us hours away in Pennsylvania. The life of that school and the education that it has pledged to give to its students have been disrupted in ways that I believe the school and the community are just starting to realize.

In a similar but a much more personal and first-hand way, the impact these crimes have had on the victims and their families is too terrible to consider. In speaking with the victims over the last couple of days, I have learned a great deal. The victims' families have expressed fear in going out in public, feeling as though they are humiliated, as if they are the ones that are being punished.

Meanwhile, they also feel that those charged in this matter seem to go on without any consequences to their behavior. But, interestingly enough, even with all those feelings in their hearts and minds, the parents of the victims in this case have expressed to me concern for what will happen to the individuals that did this to their children.

Finally, the individuals charged were all in this together. They continued their pattern of activity together. At least two of them were supposed to be in positions of leadership for the younger boys. They betrayed that position of trust. No one, not one of the perpetrators, stood up and said, no more, this is wrong.

Presently, I have not seen sufficient reasons to distinguish one of the defendants from the others because of this. The touchstone that the law requires is that the child be amenable to treatment, supervision, or rehabilitation as a juvenile if the case is to remain in the juvenile criminal justice system. As the process continues in the juvenile system, and we prepare for the certification hearing, additional information may come to light which will show me or the court that one or more of these individuals is amenable to being treated as a juvenile.

But as for now, they acted as a team. They are going to be treated as a team.

Thank you.

O'BRIEN: All right. CNN's Maria Hinojosa has been listening to this. That was Mark Zimmer, who is the Wayne County district attorney, detailing a little bit about the charges against the three relating to this incident back in August.

Maria, we were kind of in the middle of the back story there. I don't want to bury the lead, but let's finish the back story and then plug what we just saw into all of this.

HINOJOSA: So Miles, where I had left it off is -- just to wrap up -- they were at training camp in Pennsylvania. These are all teenagers from Mepham High School in Long Island. Several days, perhaps maybe even a week after the incident happened, it came to light because one of the young people who was victimized -- again, two of them 14 years old, one of them 13 years old -- was continuing to bleed after the assault.

When we first started looking into the story, Miles -- and I was the reporter that initially made the calls -- there was a real concern about a wall of silence, the fear that the district attorney is talking about. These young people afraid to come forward, afraid to even tell their parents apparently what had happened, really put a damper in moving this case forward.

Interestingly enough, what the district attorney did not mention today, but did mention on Thursday, was that the investigation continues today, even now, saying that they are looking for cooperation from those who may know more information. This is what he said on Thursday. He said, "Do the right thing. If not for the victims, for your own self respect. Silence is often golden, but in this particularly circumstance, it is reprehensible."

So it's possible that there may be in fact witnesses to these alleged assaults that are out there, that are still not cooperating, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Yes. All right. Maria Hinojosa, thank you very much. I appreciate that.

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