Teen suspects in Saratoga sex assault may be tried as adults

(Audrie Pott Foundation/Facebook)
April 12, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Friends are raising new questions about the death of a South Bay teenager who was the victim of an alleged drunken sexual assault last fall.

An attorney for the 15-year-old's family says Audrie Potts committed suicide after she was sexually assaulted by three of her friends and a photo of the attack surfaced online.

Lawyer Robert Allard says the girl saw an intimate photo being passed around online and pieced together from emails and text messages that her friends had victimized her while she slept. Eight days later, Audrie hanged herself.

Allard did not provide additional details about how the girl was assaulted, but he said she had fallen asleep after drinking at a sleepover.

On Facebook, Audrie said the whole school knew what happened, and she complained that her life was ruined - "worst day ever," Allard said. He adds that her parents did not learn about the assault until after her death, when Audrie's friends approached them.

Family members also believe the attackers tried to destroy evidence. That claim was posted on a Facebook page for a foundation set up in the girl's name. While it did not provide further details on what type of evidence might have been targeted by the suspects, it did ask any students with information to come forward.

The three 16-year-old boys were arrested Thursday on suspicion of sexual battery. The legal system is working behind the scenes to move the case from juvenile to adult court. According to Allard, the district attorney's office is trying to make that happen.

"The way that this crime was orchestrated and the way that it was carried out afterwards came with a relatively high degree of sophistication, and it's the family's belief these boys should be tried as adults like the boys in Ohio were," Allard said.

If the suspects are kept in juvenile court, the proceedings will be private and no one will know the outcome. An assistant deputy district attorney explains that rehabilitation is a key consideration.

"The avenue of rehabilitation to rehabilitate the minor in the practice in which we are," said Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Mark Buller. "Sometimes when you put into that the public scrutiny and take away the privacy aspect of it that does detract from the ability to rehabilitate the young person."

There remains some consternation that seven months elapsed from the time the alleged sexual assault happened to the time investigators were able to build the case against the three teenagers.

While others may have known what happened and who was involved, many may have remained silent. Jennifer Gacutan-Galang, an expert at San Jose State who leads a campaign against cyberbulling, explains what may have happened.

"There's something called the spiral of silence where when no one says anything, no one will ever say anything," Gacutan-Galang said.

While the case makes its way through the legal system, Audrie's parents may file lawsuits against some students and their parents. Nicolas Ladany, Dean of Santa Clara University's School of Education and Counseling Psychology says suing can have a specific purpose.

"It serves the purpose of saying to parents, 'we need to help our children understand what's appropriate and inappropriate behavior, both boys and girls,'" Ladany said.

In the first statement sent on behalf of the juvenile suspects, San Jose-based attorneys Eric S. Geffon, Alan M. Lagod and Benjamin W. Williams asked the public to reserve judgment on their clients.

In the statement, the attorneys say, "Much of what has been reported over the last several days is inaccurate. Most disturbing is the attempt to link (Audrie's) suicide to the specific actions of these three boys," the statement reads. "We are hopeful that everyone understands that these boys, none of whom have ever been in trouble with the law, are to be regarded as innocent. Due to the juvenile nature of the proceedings, we believe it inappropriate to comment further at this time."

The three teens will remain in custody in the juvenile facility through the weekend.

The family of Audrie Pott plans to hold a news conference on Tuesday in order to underscore the importance of strengthening the laws against cyberbullying.

(The Associated Press contributes to this report)


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