PUBLISHED: 12:50 EST, 30 August 2012 | UPDATED: 16:36 EST, 30 August 2012
- Eric McGowen, 20, sentenced to 99 years’ prison after being convicted ofaggravated sexual assault of a child
- Girl was gang-raped repeatedly two years ago in Cleveland, Texas
- McGowen admitted raping her with eight others, sometimes two at a time
- Escaped during afternoon break on Wednesday and not been seen since
- Man ‘should be considered armed and dangerous,’ police said
- Girl broke down during video showing her having anal sex with attackers, jurors turned away
- Said in one attack she was ‘probably’ assaulted by all 20 males over 10 hours
Eric McGowen has been sentenced to 99 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child in the first trial stemming from the horrific gang-rape of a Texas 11-year-old — but the 20-year-old is still missing after brazenly escaping from court yesterday.
McGowen hasn’t been seen since he vanished during a break in proceedings on Wednesday afternoon and the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office had no update on his whereabouts today.
But Judge Mark Morefield chose to push ahead with the trial without the defendant, calling the remaining witnesses. Jurors deliberated for just 20 minutes before finding the missing man guilty and after another 30 minutes they had decided his sentence.
On trial: Eric McGowen, 20, pictured, is among 14 adults accused of raping the girl in the shocking series of attacks that took place in the small Texas community of Cleveland
McGowen was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child and faces up to life in prison for his part in the shocking attacks, which saw the girl, now 13, gang-raped by 20 men and boys on multiple occasions in an abandoned trailer.
His lawyer didn’t present any evidence or call witnesses.
McGowen is one of 14 adults accused of having sex with the girl. Six boys also are charged in the case.
One of the last witnesses to be called was forensic nurse examiner, Ashley Huyah, who interviewed and examined the girl after she suffered a gut-wrenching gang-rape in November 2010.
Huynh testified that the girl said she had sex with at least four males, including McGowen. The nurse said knee abrasions were only physical evidence she found when examining the girl.
Jennifer Pollock, a DNA expert with Texas Department of Public Safety crime lab in Houston, was the final witness for the prosecution.
Pollock said she examined evidence at a scene where the girl was allegedly attacked and could only conclude that McGowen can’t be excluded as a contributor to the DNA that was analysed.
Liberty County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Greene said courthouse security wasn’t required to followMcGowen when he fled the courtroom yesterday because he was out on bail.
Greene said the sheriff’s office was notified by the court bailiff when the defendant didn’t return after the afternoon coffee break. He warned that McGowen should be considered armed and dangerous.
Judge Morefield yesterday issued a warrant for McGowen’s arrest and hiked the man’s bail from $35,000 to $250,000.
Missing: McGowen apparently escaped from the Liberty County Courthouse during a break in the trial
Crime scene: Authorities say this is the abandoned trailer where an 11-year-old girl was sexually assaulted in November 2010
Prosecutors and defense attorneys huddled briefly with the judge in front of his bench when the defendant, who was wearing a white shirt, jeans and tennis shoes, vanished after sitting through the bulk of the day’s proceedings, including his victim’s testimony.
McGowen’s attorney Matthew Poston and prosecutors did not comment on McGowen’s disappearance because of a gag order, though Poston said he thought his client was in the bathroom when he didn’t return to his seat.
The judge then told jurors the trial would go on without him.
Before McGowen’s brazen escape, the victim broke down in court as she watched a video of one of the painful attacks.
The girl, who authorities haven’t named, testified against McGowen in the first trial stemming from the series of horrendous attacks that took place in the small Texas community of Cleveland, 45 miles from Houston.
In court yesterday, the middle school student, dressed in a plaid shirt and blue jeans and wearing a gold cross around her neck, described how McGowen took her to a house in October 2010 where she had sex with multiple males.
The girl said she was brought into what she described as the ‘baby room’ in the house, and that McGowen and others took turns having sex with her.
Testifying under the pseudonym Regina, the girl smiled nervously and answered questions quietly.
But she broke down on the witness stand when prosecutors began playing a graphic video tape of her having anal sex during one of the alleged attacks.
She said the video, which several jurors turned away from, was of her being assaulted by another man charged in the case.
Dirty: The attacks occurred inside an abandoned mobile home, pictured, police said
She identified McGowen in the film laughing in the background, telling the attacker to ‘beat that ho.’
‘Did the guys just take turns with you?’ prosecutor Joe Warren asked.
‘Yes sir,’ the girl said.
The girl seemed calm for most of the roughly one and a half hours she testified.
She mostly gave short answers to questions, often pausing to stare at the floor or ceiling of the Liberty courtroom before responding.
However, she had difficulty remembering names and exactly how all the assaults occurred,according to the Houston Chronicle.
She described another alleged rape in November 2010 that started in a different Cleveland home the defendants called the ‘boom boom’ room, according to prosecutors, and that continued later at a nearby abandoned trailer.
Asked by Warren if more than 20 males might have assaulted her that day, the girl responded, ‘probably.’
Jurors were later shown police photos of used condoms and condom wrappers found inside and outside the house in the November incident.
Three people who have pleaded guilty — two adults and a juvenile who has since turned 18 — also testified yesterday.
Isaiah Ross, 22, told jurors he saw McGowen sexually assault the girl with a beer bottle.
The other adult, Marcus Porchia, 28, and the teen testified they saw others assault the girl but not McGowen.
McGowen’s attorney, Matthew Poston, questioned the girl for about six minutes, during which time he asked whether she twice told police early in the investigation that she never had sex with McGowen.
Accused: Kelvin Rashad King, left, and Devo Shaun Green, right, were among those accused of raping the girl
Gang-rape: Xavier King, left, and Marcus Anthony Porchia, right, are among the 20 men and boys in the case
The girl said she didn’t remember saying that.
During opening statements on Wednesday, Warren told jurors he would present them with videotaped and written confessions in which McGowen admitted to raping the girl.
‘What took place to this girl was nothing better than a pack of animals attacking,’ Warren said.
The prosecutor added that while the girl may be seen smiling and even laughing at some times on the videos, these individuals had ‘duped, tricked and talked her into doing things against her best interests,’ according to the Chronicle.
Authorities say the then 11-year-old was assaulted at least five times between mid-September and early December 2010 by a group of 20 males ranging in age from a middle school student to a 28-year-old.
The attackers filmed the girl being raped and took cellphone photos.
On Tuesday, a videotaped police interview in which McGowen admitted he and eight other men took turns having sex with the girl, sometimes two at a time, was shown in court, although jurors were not present.
Alleged attacker: Jared Glenn McPherson, pictured, is one of the men accused of raping the 11-year-old
In the video, which McGowen’s lawyers argued should not be allowed as evidence, the 20-year-old initially denied ever touching the girl, but he later broke down and told investigators he engaged in oral sex with her, according to the Houston Chronicle.
He also said one of the others penetrated the girl with a beer bottle.
On Tuesday, Poston tried but failed to get the confessions thrown out, arguing that police improperly questioned McGowen.
During his opening statement, Poston told jurors that the video evidence in the case doesn’t show McGowen having sex with the girl.
‘The truth in this case is not always what it seems,’ he said.
He also said to jurors, regarding the video ‘what you’ll see will not be pleasant but the most unsettling parts do not contain McGowen having intercourse with this girl.’
Yesterday, Poston questioned how the girl learned McGowen’s name since she was only aware of his street nickname ‘Clyde.’
She told him she believed the first time she heard that name was from school police who were questioning her about the rapes, the Chronicle reported.
Two men and all six juveniles have pleaded guilty in the horrific case.
A gag order has prevented prosecutors and defense attorneys from commenting about the case.
McGowen’s trial, which is being held in the nearby county of Liberty, is expected to yield further details about the attacks in coming days.
The investigation into the shocking gang-rapes began in 2010 after one of the girl’s friends told a teacher he had seen a cellphone video that showed the 11-year-old being raped in an abandoned trailer.
Those charged included two top athletes at the local high school and adults with criminal records.
The case brought unflattering attention to Cleveland, a town of 9,000 people, after some residents suggested the girl was in part responsible for what happened, saying she wore makeup, looked older and wasn’t properly supervised by her parents.
Other community residents, as well as groups from outside of town, sharply criticised those suggestions.
It has been complicated by a belief among many in the predominantly black neighborhood where several of the suspects live that the arrests were racially motivated. All of the suspects are black, while the girl is Hispanic.
Two other adults have previously pleaded guilty, with one receiving a 15-year prison term and the other awaiting sentencing.
Six juveniles who were charged also have previously pleaded guilty. They received 7-year prison terms, but their sentences were suspended and they were put on probation for that amount of time.
Most of the adult defendants in the case face charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child, while four face a charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child.