Ross Nipple, a slight 15-year-old who police said claimed to be a member of the Bloods gang, was led away by deputies after a hearing in Richmond County Juvenile Court on Friday. An officer handed the tie Nipple wore to his mother, and took him into the custody of the state Department of Juvenile Justice.
He was one of three defendants whose cases weren't bumped up to Superior Court last month, all of whom were handed verdicts Friday by Judge Willie Saunders.
Saunders cleared Joshua Plowright, 15, of aggravated battery and criminal street-gang activity charges, citing conflicting evidence on whether he was present for the March 1 assault. Authorities say a group of boys claiming membership in the Apple Valley Posse gang decided to "lock down the block," beating mercilessly the first person to enter their territory. At least one of them wielded brass knuckles.
The judge dropped the street-gang charges against both Nipple and Daniel Musick, 15 -- the evidence was troubling, he said, but not overwhelming -- but found them "in need of treatment, supervision and rehabilitation" on the felony battery charge.
"Whether it's a gang offense or not, it's a violent offense -- very violent offense," Saunders said. "Very serious injuries, and quite frankly, a life-altering event."
The judge gave Musick three years on probation, citing the "callous disregard" for Reese displayed in a video filmed on Musick's cell phone about 10 minutes after the first 911 call. The clip was shown to the court in an earlier hearing and had Nipple and Berten Blockett bragging about having beaten someone up, yelling profanities and touting Apple Valley Posse.
At the end of the clip, a Caucasian hand, presumed to be Musick's, appears in front of the camera flashing a sign.
As a probation condition, Musick must pay restitution, the amount of which will be the subject of an upcoming hearing. He must also perform 150 hours of community service, undergo alcohol and drug testing, attend an anger-management workshop, be evaluated for psychological counseling and pay a $500 fine plus a supervision fee, the judge said.
Saunders noted that when Reese tried to walk away from the belligerent teens, Nipple pulled his bicycle into Reese's path, causing him to stop. He sentenced him to 18 to 24 months in restrictive custody, which means he'll be locked up in a facility of the Department of Juvenile Justice's choosing.
After hearing parents, defense attorneys and a pastor tout Nipple and Musick's good character, Reese, 17, reminded the court that the boys who beat him, accosting him as he made his way to the Peach Orchard Road Save-A-Lot to meet his mother after walking a female friend home from school, left him lying bloody on the asphalt, his jaw shattered.
None of them checked on him or called for an ambulance after they fled, and none of them have ever said they were sorry, Reese noted. Police who interrogated the teens described them as "completely unrepentant," even amused by it.
"It's not the fact that I got hurt, it's that my family had to suffer while I was hurt," said Reese, who has undergone two surgeries and is awaiting a third to reset his jaw.
The judge gave the defendants a chance to apologize Friday, and only Musick turned around, curtly saying that he didn't know the others were going to do that to him and, "I saw the first blow and I ran."
Reese said later that, on the contrary, he recalls gaining consciousness briefly during the beating and seeing Musick still there.
Blockett, 16, and Branndon Manson, 15, have been arraigned in Richmond County Superior Court and are scheduled for trial later this month. If convicted, they each face a sentence of one to 20 years for the aggravated battery charge and five to 15 years for criminal street-gang activity.
The maximum sentence the others could have received in juvenile court would have been five years in state custody.
"I respect the judge's decision," prosecutor Natalie Spires said afterward, "but I am disappointed."