The case quickly drew comparisons to an assault in Steubenville, Ohio, because the victim had been drinking at a party attended by many other students who initially said nothing about the alleged attack by prominent athletes.
The victim told investigators she was raped early May 11 after passing out at a resort cabin in Gilmer County by three young men she was unable to identify.
Sheriff Stacey Nicholson said the suspects used a foreign object to inflict some of the worst injuries he’d ever seen, forcing the girl to be hospitalized.
“Her injuries were substantial,” Nicholson said.
Other students used social media to publicize the case in the days after the alleged assault, but detectives had already launched an investigation and eventually interviewed more than 50 witnesses in the case.
That’s not unlike the way the Steubenville investigation unfolded, although five school officials there were later indicted on tampering with evidence, obstructing justice, or failing to report child abuse charges in connection to the 2012 case or other incidents.
In Georgia, sheriff’s deputies charged Fields Chapman, Avery Johnson, and Andrew Haynes two weeks after the victim reported the assault, and they were barred from graduation ceremonies by Calhoun High School.
The two Steubenville suspects, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were arrested 11 days after the alleged assault that drew international attention after the hacktivist group Anonymous became involved.
Nicholson, the Gilmer County sheriff, said charges sometimes take days or even weeks to be filed in sex assault cases – particularly when victims and witnesses had been drinking alcohol.
“In a case, especially involving teenagers or young people, once you make an arrest, the information flow tends to shut down,” Nicholson said. “We wanted to get all we could get before we put people in jail.”
He said the case had provoked strong emotions among community members, but the sheriff said his detectives investigated as quickly and thoroughly as they could.
“But we did not work on Calhoun’s time or on the media’s time line,” Nicholson said.
A grand jury indicted all three suspects in the Georgia case Monday, nearly two months after the alleged assault, on aggravated sexual battery charges, and Chapman and Haynes were each indicted on an additional sodomy charge.
Chapman was also indicted on 28 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, which prosecutors said involved another victim who exchanged sexually explicit images and videos with the former student.
He and Haynes had been arrested months before on underage drinking charges, and Chapman was on probation at the time of the alleged assault.
A fourth student – the class valedictorian and most valuable player on the school’s baseball team – was present when the girl was assaulted, but authorities said he was not a suspect and cooperated with the investigation.
Prosecutors said they do not anticipate additional felony charges in the case, and they will not likely file underage drinking charges against the 20 or more students who were drinking at the party because they had cooperated with the investigation.
Aggravated sexual assault carries a possible 25-year prison term, prosecutors said.
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