A white Idaho high school football player who was charged with brutally raping a Black, mentally disabled teammate was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser felony. Prosecutors are also saying that the attack was not racially motivated or a sex crime.
According to the Times-News reports, John R.K. Howard, 19, plead guilty on Friday in a Twin Falls, Idaho, courtroom to injury to a child and will likely be sentenced to two to three years of probation, which he may be able to complete in Texas, where he is originally from. He will also have 300 hours of community service tacked on to his sentence—but won’t get any jail time for sexually assaulting his teammate with a coat hanger. (However, Howard could see the inside of a cell for 10 years and could face a $10,000 fine if he violates his probation in any way.)
But how is this plea deal even possible?
During the hearing, Deputy Attorney General Casey Hemmer admitted that Howard’s actions were “egregious” and caused the victim “a lot of suffering,” but then went on to say that it was not a sex crime and that that was why the attorney general’s office reduced charges, The Root noted.
“We don’t believe it’s appropriate for Mr. Howard to suffer the consequences of a sex offender,” Hemmer said. “But he still needs to be held accountable.”
Hemmer also said that the evidence showed that there wasn’t any penetration involved and when asked by the judge if race played a factor in the attack, he said no.
“Your honor, based on what we’ve had, no,” he said.
“I will say that there are things that we found going around that school and that locker room involving a lot of the parties here that had racial undertones. But it’s not our belief that this was a racially motivated crime. This was more of a vulnerable-victim-motivated crime. I think it probably would have happened to anybody that was in the same kind of circumstances and mental state as the victim here.”
According to the Washington Post, in May, Hemmer’s office filed sexual assault charges against Howard and two of his teammates at Dietrich High School, alleging that they held the victim down, shoved a coat hanger into his rectum and then kicked the hanger several times. The two other students involved in the attack were charged in juvenile court.
The victim’s lawyer R. Keith Roark said that they are outraged by the plea deal.
“It’s absolutely preposterous that this kid should walk away with apparently no punishment whatsoever,” Roark said. “Everyone is more concerned with these young sociopaths than the victim of their violence.”
In the meantime, the victim’s family has filed a $10 million civil lawsuit against the high school claiming that their son experienced vicious bullying and acts of racism. According to the suit, the young boy—who was adopted by a white family in an all-white rural town—“was taunted and called racist names by other members of the team which names included ‘Kool-Aid’ ‘chicken eater’ ‘watermelon’ ” and the n-word, the Post noted.