Thursday, September 14, 2000

Mason boys: 10 hours, 30 days

Service, probation the punishment

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — A juvenile magistrate ordered three Mason boys on Wednesday to serve 10 hours of community service and 30 days of probation in a case that some say never should have landed in court because it was nothing more than an adolescent sexual encounter.

        The 14-year-old boys, initially charged with felony sex crimes but later convicted of a single misdemeanor in an incident involving three female classmates, also may have the charge erased from their records after they are released from probation.

        Barred by the court from even speaking to one anoth er since their March arrests, the teens, now freshmen at Mason High School, stood together in a circle in the courthouse lobby smiling and chatting after the hearing.

        Relatives of the boys expressed relief that the case was over, but said the ordeal instilled in them a distrust of police and the legal system.

        “The system works, but it makes mistakes,” said a grandmother of one of the boys.

        “Hopefully, this won't happen to nobody else,” a father added.

        In an investigation that one defense lawyer criticized as shoddy, Mason police charged the boys with numerous felony sex charges — including rape, sexual battery and complicity to those crimes — following a March 11 incident at the home of one of the 14-year-old girls.

        Authorities said the girls became intoxicated and the boys visited the residence while the girl's mother was on a shopping trip.

        An assistant principal at Mason Middle School, where the six were eighth-graders at the time, reported the incident after gossip began circulating around the school.

        The prosecutors' case began to fall apart Sept. 5, when Magistrate Joe Kirby, after listening to testimony from the girls and others, acquitted one of the boys of all serious sex charges. Instead, he convicted the boy of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

        “Magistrate Kirby was the first authority figure they have experienced through this whole thing that treated (the boys) with respect,” defense lawyer Greg Hatcher said. “He is the first one that believed them when they were telling the truth.”


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