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Attorneys for two Calhoun, Ga., 18-year-olds shelved talk of a plea deal the day after a grand jury indicted their clients on charges of aggravated sexual battery and said witness testimony will prove that any sexual acts their clients engaged in were consensual.
Avery Johnson, Fields Chapman and Andrew Haynes face 25 years to life in prison if a jury finds them guilty of aggravated sexual battery. The charges stem from allegations that they sexually assaulted an 18-year-old classmate at a booze-fueled party in Gilmer County following the Calhoun High School prom on May 10.
"The defense is total consent as far as my client is concerned," said Haynes' attorney, Steve Williams. He also said his investigation indicates that widespread sexual activity occurred at the party that was attended by about 25 people, all under age 21.
Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson said in late May that the victim suffered "substantial" injuries and that other students were aware of what was happening and did nothing to stop it.
The victim went to the hospital in the hours after the party and told investigators that she was raped by multiple men.
The three men accused of aggravated sexual battery, a felony, also face the misdemeanor charge of sexual battery and two of them face sodomy charges.
Johnson's attorney, Jesse Vaughn, said there have been no talks of a plea bargain for his client and that he is under the impression that a key witness will testify that any sexual activity that occurred involving the three suspects was consensual.
Rhett Harper, a Southeast Whitfield High School graduate signed to play baseball at Georgia State next year, was questioned in the course of the investigation and his name was prominent in social media chatter about the incident in the days after it occurred.
Harper's attorney, Sam Sanders, has acknowledged that police questioned his client, but said it was only as a witness. Sanders has said that Harper had nothing to do with the alleged assault. Harper has not been charged with any crime.
But Vaughn and Williams believe Harper will play a pivotal role if the case goes to trial.
"Harper's statement to the police, as we understand it, is that he was in the room and that everything that went on was consensual," Vaughn said.
Sanders could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and authorities have declined to speak about the case.
An undetermined arraignment date is next for Johnson, Chapman and Haynes. They are currently free on bond.
The Georgia code does not contain a recommended prison sentence for the lesser charge of sexual battery on which the three have been indicted. The sodomy charge that Chapman and Haynes were also indicted on carries a one- to 20-year sentence.
Chapman's attorney, George Weaver, did not return calls.
"The whole issue in this thing is going to go to consent," Vaughn said. "That is the key provision, the key element, in the entire thing."
Contact staff writer David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6731.