Vernal • Three men accused of gang-raping a 9-year-old girl at a Uintah County home were ordered to stand trial Thursday after a preliminary hearing.
But a fourth man accused in the March sex assault had charges dismissed against him Thursday after the girl's mother — a key witness in his case — could not be found to testify.
Josiah RonDeau, 20, Larson RonDeau, 36, Jerry Flatlip, 29, and Randall Flatlip, 26, were charged in 8th District Court with one count each of first-degree-felony rape of a child and first-degree-felony sodomy upon a child.
But before calling the state's first preliminary hearing witness, prosecutors asked Judge Edwin Peterson to dismiss the charges against Josiah RonDeau.
Uintah County Attorney Mark Thomas told the judge that officials have not been able to find the girl's mother, who was a critical witness in Josiah RonDeau's case. Without the woman's testimony, prosecutors felt the case could not go forward against him.
The charges against Josiah RonDeau were dismissed without prejudice, meaning the case can be refiled. He was to be released from custody, and prosecutors said an arrest warrant has been sought for the girl's mother for probation violations.
After hearing testimony from several other witnesses, Peterson ruled there was probable cause for the three remaining defendants to stand trial on the charges. The defendants will be in court again next month for a status conference. All three pleaded not guilty to the charges.
During Thursday's hearing, the girl's interview at the Children's Justice Center — which provides a child-friendly atmosphere during abuse investigations — was played in court.
"They took me to the back and all four of them did that to me," the girl says in the video. " … They said if I tell anybody, they were going to kill me."
The girl — who was not in court Thursday — went on to detail an alleged sexual assault at the hands of four men, saying they held down her arms and legs and each raped her. At a later interview with a Uintah Sheriff's Office detective, the girl identified three of the men — Larson RonDeau, Jerry Flatlip, and Randall Flatlip — from a photo lineup.
The girl's mother had provided police with the identities of Josiah RonDeau, Jerry Flatlip and Randall Flatlip, according to charging documents.
Those documents state that the mother told police officers she had taken her daughter with her to the home, near 1000 South and 2000 West in Vernal, to spend Easter weekend with her friend, whom she met while incarcerated at the jail. The four men also were staying at the house, the mother reported.
At some point March 27, the mother left her sleeping daughter on a couch and went to the garage for about 30 minutes to get high on methamphetamine, she later told police.
When she returned, her daughter was upset, and told her she wanted to go home, according to charges.
Two days later, the girl told her mother of the assault.
During interviews with police, all four defendants denied sexually assaulting the girl, according to charging documents.
Defense attorneys for the three men questioned the girl's account Thursday, including concerns that her mother influenced her testimony. They pointed to phrases the girl said during the interview, such as that her aunt "was in on it too" and that her mother said "they set her up."
Defense attorney Greg Lamb, who represents Jerry Flatlip, tried introducing evidence tied to the girl's medical exams after the alleged assault, but the judge would not allow it, saying it went beyond the scope of a preliminary hearing. Lamb said outside of court that the medical exams were "very favorable for all defendants."
The girl was removed from her home in April and placed in the care of state Child Protective Services, the sheriff's office said at that time. Thomas said Thursday that the girl is now in the custody of her tribe.
"[This case] highlights the challenges families face when substance abuse becomes a part of the family dynamic," Thomas said after the hearing.