A Dietrich high school football player originally charged with sexually assaulting a black, mentally disabled teammate after an October 2015 football practice pleaded guilty to a lesser felony Friday, and prosecutors now say it wasn’t a sex crime or racially motivated.
John R.K Howard, 19, of Keller, Tex., pleaded guilty Friday in a Twin Falls courtroom to a felony count of injury to a child. He will be sentenced to two to three years of probation, which he’ll likely be able to complete in Texas, and prosecutors will recommend he be ordered to serve 300 hours of community service.
But Howard will avoid prison or jail time and could ultimately have his conviction dismissed if he successfully completes probation without violations or committing new crimes. And by submitting an Alford plea, he maintains his innocence while acknowledging prosecutors would likely be able to win a conviction at trial.
District Judge Randy Stoker agreed to bind himself to the plea bargain, which includes a withheld judgement, meaning at sentencing, Stoker will order Howard be placed on probation but will not order an underlying prison sentence. A judge will order a prison term only if Howard violates his probation.
The maximum penalty a judge could order should Howard violate his probation is 10 years in prison and a fine up to $50,000. He had faced up to life in prison on the previous felony charge of forcible sexual penetration by a foreign object.
Deputy Attorney General Casey Hemmer gave a detailed explanation Friday of the evidence prosecutors would have used to convince a jury Howard was guilty, and in a plea advisory form, Howard wrote there was “sufficient evidence for jury to convict me.”
But Hemmer also told Stoker that while Howard’s behavior was “egregious” and caused the victim “a lot of suffering,” it was not a sex crime, and that’s why the attorney general’s office amended the charge to the lesser felony. Court reports said a clothes hanger had been kicked into the victim’s rectum.
“We don’t believe it’s appropriate for Mr. Howard to suffer the consequences of a sex offender,” Hemmer said. “But he still needs to be held accountable.”
Howard’s attorney, Brad Calbo, agreed with Hemmer’s recounting of the state’s evidence but said “it needs to be crystal clear … that this victim was not at any time pinned down, raped, or pinned down and subjected to any sort of forcible penetration.”
Hemmer agreed, saying the evidence didn’t support those claims.
Stoker also asked Hemmer whether prosecutors planned to argue the attack was racially motivated.
Source: Magic Valley | ALEX RIGGINS firstname.lastname@example.org