Mother denies beaten teen was part of gang

Judge overturns suspect's release

Last week, Taanja Reese said her 16-year-old son wasn't angry at the boys who beat him mercilessly March 1 in what police say was a random, gang-related attack.

"He is now," she said Friday after their arraignments in Richmond County Juvenile Court.

In an ensuing detention hearing for one of the accused teens, defense attorney Brendan Fleming told Judge Willie Saunders that he has evidence that the victim, Butler High School honor roll student Terence Reese, is in a gang, too.

"My son despises gangs," Reese said. "Even gang members at his school know he's not in a gang."

Though the arraignment was for all five teenagers charged with the assault on Reese, the subject of 15-year-old Ross Nipple's release Monday and his ties to the Bloods gang dominated the proceedings. Assistant District Attorney Natalie Spires also announced that the DA's office wants to try all five as adults in Superior Court.

Nipple's arrest March 10 was the latest in a series of actions by authorities after the attack on Circular Drive. During a more subdued detention hearing in the courtroom four days earlier, the teen was released to his parents under house arrest until an April hearing.

But on Friday, representatives from the district attorney's office argued forcefully that Nipple should never have been let go, and Saunders agreed, albeit reluctantly. The judge overruled the decision by Judge Ben Allen and ordered the teen detained.

Spires said Allen was not given enough information about the violent nature of the attack because the DA's office wasn't present at Nipple's first hearing. If it had been, she argued, Nipple would not be free while the other four teens were locked up.

"Perhaps Judge Allen was not aware of the physical damage to this victim," Spires said.

The arraignment was a precursor to a hearing scheduled for April 16 that will determine whether the teens are tried as adults.

Spires called the attack violent and heinous, done with "no regard for human life." Investigator Sean Cochran testified that the five teens wanted to "lock down the block," vowing to assault the first person who came into their territory. They found Terence, who was walking his girlfriend home from school.

"This is not a juvenile crime," Spires said. "This is an adult crime, and this is a crime that warrants detention."

Reese said her son's jaw remains wired shut with titanium plates in his mouth. He suffered broken bones in his face, and he caught a cold in the hospital and later developed pneumonia. She's said he's going back to his oral surgeon Monday, possibly for another surgery.

Terence didn't want to go to court Friday, she said, but they decided seeing his attackers would be an important step in coping with what happened. They were both shocked when Fleming made the statement about her son being a gang member.

"My son's face turned blood red," Reese said. "I was just flabbergasted."

ALSO AT ISSUE FRIDAY was a call made to Terence's cell phone earlier this week by Nipple's mother, Vanessa Richards, which Spires said violated Allen's stipulation that Nipple have no contact with the victim. Saunders said that though that did violate the order, he was reluctant to punish the teen for something his mother did.

After the hearing, Richards said she called the Reeses on the advice of her pastor, Sullivan Bush of City of Refuge Christian Center in Hephzibah. She said she wanted her son to apologize to Terence's mother. She said she had no idea that would violate Allen's order.

Richards said she never saw any signs that her son was in a gang. She couldn't explain why he would have told police he's a Bloods member.

According to Cochran's testimony, Nipple gave investigators "pertinent information" about how the gang is organized, its signs and symbols and who its leaders are. He also said that because he was in a larger gang it was OK for him to hang out with smaller neighborhood groups. Investigators have said the other four claimed to be Apple Valley Posse members.

Richards said the truth will come out about her son's involvement, one way or another.

"All things work together for the good," she said, quoting the Book of Romans.

Bush, who testified to Nipple's good character, said he would be shocked if the teen is a gang member. He said his church has been trying to keep teens out of gangs, something that comes from associating with the wrong people.

"It needs to be stamped out," he said. "We've just got to work together to help turn our youth around."