Nearly a year after six Tooele High School baseball players were involved in sexual exploitation of a minor in a motel room in Washington County, four juveniles accepted a plea deal this morning before 3rd District Juvenile Court Judge C. Dane Nolan.
Second-degree felony charges of sexual exploitation of a minor were filed in juvenile court last July against four members of the THS baseball team, who ranged in age from 15 to 17 years at that time. Identical charges were filed in 3rd-District Court against another two THS team players who were 18 at the time of the incident.
All six young men were accused of filming each other engaging in sexual misconduct with a 15-year-old girl from northern Utah during state athletic tournaments. The crime took place March 12 in a St. George motel room.
The four juveniles — who have not been named by the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin — with sexual exploitation of a minor, a second-degree felony. Two of the teens pleaded guilty Thursday to attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, a thirddegree felony. The other two juveniles pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of dealing harmful material to a minor, also a third-degree felony.
The two adults allegedly involved in the case are scheduled for an April 4 hearing before Judge Randall N. Skanchy. It is expected that they will also have the chance to accept a plea deal for their roles in the crime.
Tooele County Prosecutor John Dow told Judge Nolan this morning that the female victim was aware of — and in agreement with — the plea deal offered the juveniles. Dow said the girl did not want to testify in court.
Each of the male juveniles met in a separate hearing with Nolan to admit his involvement with the crime.
A 15-year-old male, the youngest of the six THS athletes, admitted the video camera used to tape the sexual acts belonged to him. He said he showed other members of the ball team how to turn the camera on. However, the young man denied touching the girl — a claim Tooele City Police officers have determined to be true based upon viewing the film. In fact, the owner of the video camera removed himself to another area of the motel room while the other five team members fondled the girl.
The other three juveniles admitted in court Thursday that they inappropriately touched the girl.
One by one, the four juveniles stood before Judge Nolan in separate hearings and expressed great remorse over the incident.
“What we did was wrong,” one juvenile stated. “We have disgraced our school, our team and our coaches. We disgraced the girl we hurt so badly. I know it was wrong. We were just dumb teenagers doing stupid stuff. We knew better and I want it noted that I am stepping up to the plate and being a man about this. What we did was wrong and I want every- one to know we know what we did was wrong.”
Each of the juvniles expressed great remorse for his part in the crime.
Defense attorneys for the young men noted that none of the teens had a criminal history before last spring. Each boy was described as a “good student” and defense attorneys said they all came from “stable” homes.
Through the plea deal, Dow recommended that the teens receive a suspended 30-day detention sentence, pay a $500 fine, undergo a psychological evaluation and be required to follow-up with any recommended treatment. Dow suggested that each teen also pay a $25 court security fee and a $75 DNA analysis fee.
Additionally, the prosecutor recommended that each young man write a letter of apology to the girl, and another letter of apology to the girl’s school.
After speaking with each teen as well as with the youth’s parents, Judge Nolan determined that the psychological evaluation was not necessary. The judge did impose the $500 fine and the fees.
Additionally, rather than totally suspending detention time, Judge Nolan required that three of the juveniles spend two days in a detention center. The third young man, who has turned 18 since the incident occurred, was sentenced to one day in the Tooele County jail.
The judge explained that he felt detention for all four young men was necessary because, “I want to send a message of how serious this crime is.”
Judge Nolan noted that sexual exploitation can leave devastating scars on victims. He also said that had the video tape been placed in the wrong hands, the teen girl could have been further exploited.
“Child pornography is very serious,” the judge stated. “Pedophiles search for this type of stuff. It is very damaging to children in our community and in our whole country. It puts, particularly, young girls at risk. That is why this crime is such a big deal.”
The four juveniles all denied that anyone other than them had seen the tape. Prosecutor Dow said he had talked to one male teen who would have testified — had the charges against the juveniles gone to trial — that he had seen the tape.
“Other than that one person, no one has admitted seeing the tape,” Dow said.
After telling each defendant of the seriousness of his crime, the judge thanked each teen for taking responsibility for his actions.
“Everybody makes mistakes and we learn from them,” the judge told each defendant. “A true test of a person’s character is how they respond and deal with their mistakes.”
Following a six-month probation period, each of the four juveniles will have his crime reduced to a class B misdemeanor. Prosecutor Dow said the state would not object to expungement of the crimes in six months if the teens successfully complete an informal probation.
Judge Nolan ordered that each of the four juveniles write the letters of apology to the girl and her school within 10 days. He told the male teens of the importance of letting the victim know they take responsibility for what happened.
“Your taking responsibility is very important to the victim’s healing,” the judge told the teens.