A New Jersey judge denied a prosecutor's request to try a 16-year-old rape suspect — accused of filming an assault against an intoxicated girl and sending video to his friends — as an adult because he's from a "good family" and is likely to get into a "good college," NBC News reported.
The "young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well. He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college. His scores for college entry were very high," Judge James Troiano said as part of a July 2018 decision, the network noted, while adding the accused also is an Eagle Scout.
But an appeals court last month overturned Troiano's ruling and warned him against showing leniency to juveniles of privilege, noting that "juveniles who do not come from good families and do not have good test scores" may not receive the same treatment, NBC News said. The teen now can be tried as an adult, the outlet added.
What's the background?
The suspect — identified in court papers as G.M.C. — videotaped himself in 2017 with a 16-year-old girl called "Mary" in a closed off area of a dark basement during a "pajama-themed" party and sent the clip to friends with a text: "When your first time having sex was rape," the network said, citing the appeals court ruling.
While the suspect also was drunk, the girl's "speech was slurred, and she stumbled as she walked," NBC News said, citing the ruling.
"While on the sofa, a group of boys sprayed Febreze on [the girl's] bottom and slapped it with such force that the following day she had hand marks on her buttocks," the network said, citing the ruling.
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G.M.C. then penetrated Mary from behind in a home-gym portion of the basement. In the video he sent to seven friends, her torso is exposed, and her head is hanging down. One of the friends said that the video showed Mary's head hitting against the wall repeatedly.
Prosecutors said that during the assault, the door to the gym was blocked by a foosball table, and the lights were off.
"[G.M.C.'s] conduct as it relates to the charged offenses was both sophisticated and predatory. He was aware of the off-limits areas in advance of the party," prosecutors said, adding that "filming a cellphone video while committing the assault was a deliberate act of debasement."
The victim learned that G.M.C. was sending the video to his friends and asked him to stop, the network said — and when he didn't, her family pressed charges.
New Jersey prosecutors can push juvenile cases to adult trials for serious crimes if suspects are age 15 and older, NBC News said, adding that the teen in this case — if tried as an adult — would have faced counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault, third-degree endangering the welfare of a child, two counts of third-degree invasion of privacy, and would have had to register as a sex offender.
What else did the judge say?
Troiano — now 69 — "expressed concern that the prosecutor did not indicate ... that she had explained to Mary and her mother the devastating effect" adult charges would have on G.M.C.'s life, the network said, citing the appeals court ruling.
"Some people would argue that, you know ... how could she possibly have gotten as drunk as she says she was?" he also asked, NBC News said. "That's really not important. I think it's an issue here, whether or not this young lady was intoxicated to the point that she didn't understand what was going on."
Troiano also questioned the rape accusation, the network said, saying a rape to him means "two or more generally males involved, either at gunpoint or weapon, clearly manhandling a person into ... an area where ... there was nobody around, sometime in an abandon[ed] house, sometimes in an abandon[ed] shed, shack, and just simply taking advantage of the person as well as beating the person, threatening the person."
As for G.M.C.'s text saying the act was a rape, Troiano said his words were "just a 16-year-old boy saying stupid crap to his friends," NBC News said.
"[D]o I believe that it shows in any way a calculation or cruelty on his part or sophistication or a predatory nature?" the judge added, according to the network. "No, I do not."
Appeals court disagrees
But the appeals court said the prosecution showed "the delinquent act in question, if committed by an adult in this case, would have been aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault," and that "the judge decided the case for himself," NBC News said.
G.M.C.'s attorney, Mitchell J. Ansell, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, the network reported.
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Three days after the ruling on Troiano's decision, the New Jersey appeals court reversed a decision by another state family court judge, Marcia Silva of Middlesex County, against having a 16-year-old accused of raping a 12-year-old charged in adult court.
Silva argued that the alleged victim and the 16-year-old were the only witnesses, and "there is little, if any, tangible evidence."
"The judge went on to say that even if this 12-year-old's statement was true, the offense is not an especially heinous or cruel offense," the appeals court's ruling said.
"Beyond losing her virginity," Silva said of the 12-year-old, prosecutors did not claim that she "suffered any further injuries, either physical, mental or emotional."
But the appeals court ruled that the 16-year-old was culpable, even if the victim had not said "no" — as prosecutors said she had — because she was 12 at the time of the alleged assault.
"It was not the judge's role to essentially try the matter or substitute her judgment for that of the prosecutor," the appeals court said in the decision.
Peter McAleer, director of communications and community relations for New Jersey Courts, told the network that neither Troiano or Silva were commenting on the cases — and that Troiano is retired but still serves periodically.