DIETRICH • The teen who prosecutors say was sexually assaulted in October inside a Dietrich High School locker room testified Friday that a football teammate lured him into a hug and then signaled for two other players to attack him.
The victim was one of two teenage boys to testify Friday during a preliminary hearing for 17-year-old Tanner Ward, who is charged as an adult in the brutal Oct. 22 attack after a football practice. Despite conflicting testimony by the victim and a teammate who witnessed the attack, a judge ordered Ward’s case bound over to district court.
Friday’s hearing was the first time details of the assault have been made public after a judge sealed records related to the case at the request of the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, which took over the investigation in November and charged three football players March 4.
Those records remained sealed after the preliminary hearing Friday, and the school’s handling of the case was mentioned only briefly during the preliminary hearing.
Ward is one of three football players charged in the attack.
One of the others, John R.K. Howard, 18, of Keller, Texas, made his initial appearance Friday in Lincoln County Magistrate Court to be arraigned. He and Ward are both charged as adults with felony forcible penetration by use of a foreign object.
A third football player is charged as a juvenile and all records in his case are sealed. The attorney general’s office said last month it could not reveal what he is charged with.
Ward is charged as an adult because Idaho law mandates that juveniles aged 14 to 18 accused of committing certain crimes on or near school campuses are charged as adults.
Howard was 18 at the time of the incident.
The first teenager called to the stand Friday, a teammate of the boys involved in the case, was inside the locker room after the team’s practice Oct. 22. He testified Ward initiated the attack using a hanger, which Howard then kicked “five or six” times. The witness said he couldn’t remember if either attacker said anything but remembered them both laughing at the boy, “who looked like he was in pain.”
He said Dietrich School District Superintendent Ben Hardcastle and Dietrich High School Principal Stephanie Shaw interviewed him within about a week of the incident. The victim said he and his mother reported the attack to Hardcastle the day after it happened.
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The victim testified Howard and Ward started harassing him before practice when they gave him what he called “power wedgie” that was so violent it tore his boxers when the other teens pulled them up over his pants.
In the locker room after football practice, he said, the teen who is charged as a juvenile asked him for a hug, and when the victim gave him a hug, that boy signaled for the attack to begin.
“I screamed,” the victim testified. “I was pretty upset. I felt really bad. A little bit betrayed and confused at the same time. It was terrible — a pain I’ve never felt.”
The victim’s parents, seated two rows behind the 17-year-old defendant, looked anguished as their son testified. But they told the Times-News outside the courthouse Friday they were proud of the courage their son showed and happy with the outcome of the hearing.
Michael J. Wood, Ward’s attorney, compelled both the witness and the victim to draw diagrams of the locker room and spent much of his questioning asking them them to draw out and animate the events as they unfolded the day of the attack. The tactic seemed to confuse both the victim and the witness, and Wood’s cross-examination of the witness turned hostile at times.
After two hours of testimony, Wood pointed out during his closing argument that key statements by the witness and the victim differed greatly, including which part of the hanger was used, how many times it was kicked and how long the attack lasted.
“The testimony is so inherently conflicting so as not to prove the event,” Wood told Judge Mark Ingram during his closing argument.
Deputy Attorney General Brenda Bauges conceded that there were “some discrepancies” but argued the state had met its burden of proof anyway. Ingram agreed.
“The evidence is conflicted on detail,” the judge said. “But the essential element was established by (the victim). I am going to bind it over.”
Ward is next due in court May 3 for a district court arraignment at which time he’ll be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Howard, who is finishing high school in Texas, is set for a June 10 preliminary hearing.