Victim lawsuit imminent after three teens convicted in Ooltewah rape case

The exterior of Ooltewah High School photographed on Sunday, January 31, 2016. (Staff file photo by Maura Friedman)

Three former Ooltewah High School basketball players left the Sevier County Courthouse in handcuffs Tuesday, convicted in connection with the pool-cue rape of their freshman teammate.

An 18-year-old, who was 17 at the time of the incident, was found guilty of aggravated rape and aggravated assault, and two boys who were 16 at the time of the rape were convicted of aggravated assault, according to two people inside the courtroom.

"It's an incredibly sad day for all the young men involved here," said Eddie Schmidt, an attorney for the main victim, who was severely injured.

During the basketball team's trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn., just days before Christmas 2015, older teammates assaulted four freshmen with pool cues. The last freshman to be assaulted was injured so severely he had to be rushed to a hospital for emergency surgery to repair his bladder and rectum, according to previous court testimony.

Following the verdict, Schmidt said it became clear sitting through the testimony that the team's coaches were clueless, didn't care or implicitly encouraged what happened.

"These events had not just been building for a couple weeks, not just for a couple months, but for years," Schmidt said. "This is almost predictable what happened."

A lawsuit is expected to be filed against the Hamilton County Board of Education on behalf of the main victim within the next seven to 10 days, Schmidt said.

Three of the victims testified during Tuesday's hearing. Each of the boys walked into the courtroom with their mothers and testified individually for about 30 minutes.

Leaving the courtroom after the testimony, each mother had a distraught expression, and the boys slowly walked out of the room with their eyes to the ground. The main victim's mother gave her son a tight hug and whispered in his ear following his testimony.

Tuesday's hearing was closed to the public and media, and even the victims and their families were not in the courtroom for the majority of the hearing. Mothers of the victims said they were instructed not to talk to the media following the verdict.

Tennessee law grants juvenile court judges the right to determine if court proceedings can be closed to the public, but requires a judge to provide reasoning as to why public access to the hearing would result in "particularized prejudice," if it's conducted behind closed doors. The law also requires the judge to consider "reasonable alternatives" to closing the hearing.

Initially, Sevier County Juvenile Court Judge Jeff Rader did not provide a reason for his decision, stating only that two defendants in the case objected to the media being present.

But at the request of the Times Free Press, Rader released a two-page order Tuesday afternoon explaining his decision.

Rader said he closed the hearing because he wanted to protect the identities of both the victims and the defendants. He said if the media were allowed in the room, the identities of the juveniles would be released. He added that there was "no reasonable alternative" to closing the courtroom.

Previously, Sevier County Juvenile Court Judge Dwight Stokes allowed the media into the transfer hearing for the 18-year-old defendant, and asked that the names of the victims, defendants and their families not be reported.

In Rader's motion to keep the hearing closed, he also mentioned the pending charges in Hamilton County Criminal Court against Gatlinburg Police Detective Rodney Burns and former Ooltewah High School basketball head coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery. He said since Burns and Montgomery could not testify because of the pending charges, police investigative records and Department of Children's Services records, which are confidential, would be used instead.

Burns is charged with two counts of aggravated perjury, a class D felony that carries a sentence between two and four years behind bars, because of his testimony in the case.

Montgomery is charged with failure to report child sexual assault to the proper authorities and is scheduled to appear in Hamilton County Criminal Court today.

Curtis Bowe, Montgomery's attorney, did not return request for comment Tuesday night.

Schmidt said the testimony of either of those men would not have changed Tuesday's outcome.

All three defendants are scheduled to be sentenced in Sevier County Juvenile Court in September and will receive much lighter sentences than if they had been charged as adults.

The two 16-year-olds have been out on bond for months, but were taken back into custody Tuesday. The 18-year-old has been in Sevier County Juvenile Detention Facility since December.

Following the verdict, the families of the defendants left the courtroom, wiping tears, and choosing not to comment.

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.

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