PUBLISHED: 18:45 EST, 13 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:41 EST, 13 September 2012
- Eric McGowen, 20, caught by police on Tuesday while sitting on toilet in Houston apartment
- Formally sentenced today to 99 years in prison after being convicted last month of aggravated 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
A man who was a fugitive for almost two weeks after fleeing his trial a day before being convicted in the repeated group sexual assault of an 11-year-old Texas girl, smiled as he was led into court today to be sentenced to 99 years without parole.
Dressed in a red jumpsuit, handcuffed and with a chain around his waist and legs, Eric McGowen was formally sentenced in the same courtroom from which he had fled on August 29.
Red menace: McGowen, who dyed his hair while on the run, arrived at court handcuffed and with a chain around his waist and legs
McGowen, who had dyed his hair a reddish brown while on the run, will now be transferred to the Texas prison system.
The 20-year-old did not say anything during the brief court hearing, and mostly looked at the floor. When asked by state District Judge Mark Morefield if there was any legal reason why the sentence shouldn’t be imposed, McGowen appeared to mumble something to his attorney, Matthew Poston. Poston said his client objected to the sentence because it was ‘cruel and unusual.
McGowen was one of 20 men and boys who authorities say repeatedly sexually assaulted the girl on at least five occasions from mid-September through early December of 2010. He was the first defendant to stand trial in the case.
McGowen, pictured prior to his escape, 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
He did not say anything to reporters as he held up a piece of paper over his face while being led out of the courthouse by officers and loaded into a police car in the pouring rain.
On August 29, McGowen was on trial, but never came back to court after a break in testimony. McGowen had been free on bail at the time. He fled the same day the girl tearfully testified about the attacks in her hometown of Cleveland, about 45 miles northeast of Houston.
The trial, held in the nearby county seat of Liberty, went on without him and a jury the next day convicted him of aggravated sexual assault of a child and then sentenced him in absentia.
Liberty County Courthouse: McGowen had escaped almost two ago during a break in the trial
Authorities tracked McGowen down to an apartment in northeast Houston and arrested him on Tuesday. Six law enforcement agencies had coordinated the search for him. McGowen was apparently caught by surprise, as he was sitting on a toilet when authorities entered the apartment and arrested him, officials said.
The investigation regarding individuals who might have helped McGowen elude authorities continues, officials said.
Before his trial, all six juveniles and two of the 14 adults charged had pleaded guilty. Since McGowen’s conviction, four other adults have pleaded guilty and are set to be sentenced on September 21.
His disappearance was the latest twist in a case that has divided the small town of Cleveland, both because of the horrific allegations and suggestions from some residents that the girl was partly responsible because of her appearance. Police began investigating after one of the girl’s classmates told a teacher he saw video of her being sexually assaulted in an abandoned trailer.
Prosecutors’ case against McGowen included a videotaped confession and testimony from nearly a dozen witnesses, including the girl, who is now 13. Poston did not present any witnesses or evidence.
Crime scene: Authorities say this is the abandoned trailer where an 11-year-old girl was sexually assaulted in November 2010
The girl, who authorities haven’t named, testified against McGowen, describing the series of horrendous attacks that took place in the small Texas community of Cleveland, 45 miles from Houston.
In court, 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 began to cry when prosecutors began playing a graphic video tape of her having anal sexduring 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
The girl said she didn’t remember saying that.
During opening statements, 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.
Alleged attacker: Jared Glenn McPherson, pictured, is one of the men accused of raping the 11-year-old
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 Houston 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.
During the trial, 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.
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.
Poston tried but failed to get the confessions thrown out, arguing that police improperly questioned McGowen.
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.