Ooltewah rape victim testifies as judge weighs fate of the accused

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

SEVIER COUNTY - Three juvenile victims of sexual assault, including one whose injuries sent him to the hospital, testified against their older ex-basketball teammate as Sevier County Juvenile Court Judge Dwight Stokes weighed whether to charge the former Ooltewah Owls senior as an adult or keep the case in juvenile court.

Assistant District Attorney Rolfe Straussfogel called the rape of the boy, which occurred in a cabin during the basketball team's trip to Gatlinburg, an "aggressive premeditated attack that resulted in horrific injuries."

The prime victim in the case, who will not be named because he is a juvenile victim of sexual assault, testified that things did not get bad for him or the other freshman on the team until the defendant joined the basketball team from the football team a couple weeks into the season.

The defendant is charged with aggravated rape and aggravated assault for the injuries the victim sustained before being rushed to the hospital.

The defendant allegedly continued the team's tradition of the "freshman rack," where the older players beat the freshman players when they join the team, the three freshman testified.

They each said this happened several times in the locker room, and the attacks grew harsher during the team's trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn., just days before Christmas.

The defendant's attorney, Jeff Stern, said the hazing the freshman experienced "was just meant to be a welcoming of sorts."

Stern said what happened in Gatlinburg was an accident, and that his client can be reformed through the juvenile court system before turning 19 in about 10 months, and doesn't deserve to face these charges as an adult.

The victim testified in court that he watched his two other teammates being poked in the rear with a pool stick while two others held them down.

He said he was too embarrassed to tell the coaches what was happening, and also feared if he told he would get the abuse worse.

The next time, he was allegedly raped, as three of his teammates came into his bedroom in the basement of the cabin when he was alone after dinner and closed the door.

Two boys then held him down while the other defendant ruptured his bladder with a pool cue, the victim said.

His mother testified that he is going to therapy as well as continued doctor's appointments, and doesn't want to be a victim. However, his manhood has been attacked and he is embarrassed, she said.

"Mentally, he doesn't want to be a victim," she testified. "He's trying to be like he's not hurt but he's hurt."

Following these four testimonies, Gatlinburg Police Detective Rodney Burns took the stand.

Burns previously testified in Hamilton County Juvenile Court in the preliminary hearing of the three adults charged in connection with this case for failing to report abuse or suspected sexual abuse to the proper authorities. During his previous testimony, Burns said what happened to the victim was not rape because the defendants did not receive sexual gratification from the act.

Following this testimony, Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into Burns for perjury in this testimony, as Pinkston said Burns testimony on the stand differed from previous reports he had given.

In today's hearing, Burns was much more reserved in his testimony.

He recounted his investigation, and described the "freshman rack" as a hazing ritual on the team.

He said this hazing escalated during the trip to aggravated rape.

Burns added that the defendant showed remorse following the incident, and that he said his hand slipped on the pool cue and that is what caused it to penetrate the victim more severely than the other freshman.

Following Burns' testimony, the state rested it's case. Court is in recess until 1:15 p.m., when the defense is expected to call several witnesses.