Former Ooltewah athlete spending less than a year in custody for rape conviction

Two other teens charged in connection with the assault on a teammate are going free after 60 more days in juvenile detention

Sevier County Courthouse

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. - The former Ooltewah High School student convicted of raping his basketball teammate with a pool cue will be released from custody Nov. 21, having spent less than a year in juvenile detention, according to a source who attended his sentencing.

His criminal record also will be wiped clean as part of his sentencing Tuesday in Sevier County Juvenile Court, where he received a more lenient sentence than if his case had been transferred to adult court. He is the oldest of the three assailants convicted in connection with the rape - he turned 18 soon after the December attack.

Sevier County Juvenile Court Judge Jeff Rader denied multiple requests by the Times Free Press to be allowed inside the courtroom Tuesday.

Juvenile court is restricted by law from detaining or rehabilitating someone after their 19th birthday, so the maximum amount of time he could have remained in the system was about four more months. His conviction does mean he will be added to the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry.

Family members of the oldest defendant declined to comment after the hearing.

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

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Two other boys also were sentenced Tuesday in connection with the rape, which occurred just days before Christmas at a cabin in Gatlinburg, Tenn., during the team's trip to the Smoky Mountain Classic basketball tournament.

Those two boys, both 16 at the time of the attack, have spent 50 days in custody and were sentenced to spend an additional 60 days in juvenile detention, according to someone inside the courtroom. Once they turn 18, their records will also be expunged.

They also were charged with aggravated rape, but not convicted. Previous court testimony stated they held the victim down as the older boy rammed a pool cue into the victim's rectum, causing injuries so severe he required emergency surgery.

Court testimony and investigations have stated that three other freshmen on the school's basketball team also were assaulted with a pool cue during the Gatlinburg trip. No one has been charged in connection with those attacks, but Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston said those boys also were raped.

During the hearing, a mother of one of the freshmen read a statement to the court and later shared it with the Times Free Press.

She will not be identified here to protect her son's identity.

In the statement, she said her son had been playing basketball with older boys for many years, and she and her husband never thought any of his fellow teammates would ever hurt him.

"The embarrassment that he felt from that alone is beyond anything I can begin to comprehend," her statement reads.

Her son endured shame and threats from students at the school because of his testimony in court.

"So, this has impacted [the victim's] life to the point where he does not feel free to go wherever he chooses, not knowing if he is going to get into a fight," she said in the statement.

After the assault in December, the woman said her son asked to be removed from Ooltewah High School.

"I just want to end by saying that what [the victim] endured from the three defendants from November to December of 2015 has impacted our lives as a family, definitely [the victim's] life, but also the life of his father and I," she said.

Following the sentencing, the mother said she is not pleased with the decision and believes the boys should have been tried and punished as adults.

Rader prevented the public or media from being in the courtroom - Tennessee law grants juvenile court judges the right to determine if court proceedings are open to the public. If a judge closes the courtroom, he is required by law to provide the reason why public access to the hearing would result in "particularized prejudice" and to consider "reasonable alternatives" to closing the hearing.

The Times Free Press made several requests to Rader to open the courtroom to media, but he denied them, saying defendants in the case objected to the media being present.

Asked to provide additional reasoning for closing the hearing, Rader provided an order saying the hearing was closed to protect the identities of the defendants and victims. He said 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 who is now convicted of rape in the case. Stokes asked that the names of the victims, defendants and their families not be reported.

It is Times Free Press policy to withhold the names of sexual assault victims or minors being tried in juvenile court.

Stokes' decision to allow the 18-year-old assailant to remain in juvenile court allowed for Tuesday's lighter sentencing.

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