A Superior Court judge on Friday ordered the cases against two former high school football players to be heard in Juvenile Court.
After an investigation, Superior Court Judge Duncan Wheale ruled at a hearing to send cases against Reginald Anthony Rice III, 18, of Grovetown, and Shadrick Marquie Harris, 17, of Appling, to Juvenile Court.
"I think you need one court to be the fact-finder,'' Judge Wheale said. "You have one court that has four people in it and another that has two. I believe that one court should be the fact finder. One court should hear all the witnesses. One court should review all the evidence."
Mr. Rice and Mr. Harris were indicted Oct. 19. The indictment accuses Mr. Rice, the former captain of Greenbrier High School's football team, of raping a girl and aggravated child molestation involving another.
Mr. Harris was indicted on three counts of aggravated child molestation.
Both teens were indicted on three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Police say the incident involved two 14-year-old girls, a 15-year-old girl and a then-16-year-old boy and occurred Sept. 17-18 in a "barn-type structure" behind the home of one of the teens. A parent of one of the girls reported the incident Sept. 26.
A judge can move a Superior Court case to Juvenile Court if the defendant is between age 13 and 17, the crime is not punishable by life in prison and the case has extraordinary circumstances.
The rape charge carries a possible punishment of life in prison without parole, but Assistant District Attorney Hank Syms said his office will not seek life in Mr. Rice's case. Juvenile Court judges have authority to impose up to five years in prison, said Mike Garrett, the attorney for Mr. Harris.
"The cases are better suited for Juvenile Court," Mr. Garrett said.
If Mr. Harris or Mr. Rice are sentenced to confinement, Mr. Syms said because of their age, he believes they would be sent to an adult prison as opposed to a juvenile detention facility.
Judge Wheale said he thought it was inconsistent to have Mr. Rice charged with rape and the girl he was accused of raping charged with fornication in Juvenile Court. The third boy, now 17, is accused of committing acts similar to Mr. Harris and Mr. Rice and could have been charged in Superior Court but was not, Judge Wheale said.
Cases against all four juveniles are scheduled to be heard Wednesday in Juvenile Court.
"He could have been charged when he was 16 in Superior Court. All three boys could have been brought together in Superior Court," Judge Wheale said. "... It appears from my review of the file that the sexual acts alleged to have occurred as to all three boys are the same or similar in nature."
The judge said holding trials in two separate courts would traumatize young victims and witnesses more than was necessary by making testimonies and displays in open court.
"I'm not looking for mercy," Judge Wheale said. "I'm looking for justice, and I think that's where justice will be best served."
Reach Valerie Rowell at 868-1222, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.