The teenager accused of rubbing his genitals in the face of a younger football player at Gunnison Valley High School and committing other acts that prosecutors called sexual abuse admitted to eight felonies on Tuesday.
The 16-year-old will face the possibility of being in a juvenile detention center until he is 21, though Wes Mangum, the deputy Sanpete County attorney who prosecuted the case, declined Wednesday to say what his recommendation will be. A judge will issue a sentence at a hearing in late February.
The teen has been serving detention in his home since the charges were filed in September, Mangum said.
In a hearing in a state juvenile court in Manti, the 16-year-old admitted to the accusations — the equivalent of a guilty plea in adult court. He admitted to eight counts of forcible sexual abuse.
Mangum also confirmed Wednesday that two teenage co-defendants had also resolved their cases. One admitted to a felony count of forcible sexual abuse, albeit it one level less severe than the teen in Tuesday’s case.
The other co-defendant admitted to a misdemeanor count of a charge similar to sexual battery, Mangum said. The two co-defendants each originally were charged with a felony count of forcible sexual abuse.
The boy who admitted to crimes Tuesday had been charged with 10 counts, including six first-degree felony counts of object rape that carried up to life in prison if convicted in adult court. Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels had raised pursuing the case in adult court as a possibility.
Mangum on Wednesday said the victims in the cases supported the resolutions. Juvenile court also places an emphasis on rehabilitation, and Mangum said he, the judge and the defendants’ attorneys will work to ensure the boys get any counseling they need.
“These are juveniles,” Mangum said. “They made a big mistake, bad judgment and, frankly, broke the law, but I don’t think you throw them in the ocean and cut the line.”
The cases shined a spotlight on Gunnison Valley High School’s athletic teams, where the boys allegedly found their victims. In one episode alleged in a civil lawsuit, the two co-defendants were accused of holding down a 14-year-old boy while the main offender rubbed his genitals in the younger boy’s face.
That federal lawsuit was filed by Misty Cox and her son, whom she asked during a news conference in October to be identified only as Greg. They are suing the South Sanpete School District and administrators there. The lawsuit contends administrators had prior reports of the boys’ behavior and dismissed them as horseplay.
The school district answered the lawsuit in December. The district argues Cox and her son cannot show “deliberate indifference,” a standard for successfully suing the government, and otherwise the administrators have immunity from lawsuits.
It took a child telling a school resource officer, former state legislator Carl Wimmer, now a Gunnison Valley Police Department officer, to ignite a criminal investigation.
That police department announced the case resolutions on its Facebook page Tuesday.
“With the truth having prevailed,” the Facebook post said, “and justice being served, it is the sincere hope of the Gunnison Valley Police Department that healing can begin. There are lessons to be learned and hurts that need mending and we look forward to continuing to provide the most professional and honorable service possible.”
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not name victims who say they were sexually abused, but the mother and son agreed to be identified during a news conference in October. The Tribune generally does not name juvenile suspects unless they have been certified to stand trial in adult court.
Wimmer told The Tribune in October there could have been as many as 13 assaults.