LIBERTY, Texas — Attorneys were set to make their closing arguments Thursday in the first trial to stem from the alleged sexual assault of a young Texas girl by 20 men and boys over three months of 2010.
Eric McGowen didn’t show up a day after skipping out during a break in proceedings Wednesday, which was the first day of testimony. The 20-year-old Cleveland, Texas, man had been free on $35,000 bail, but state District Judge Mark Morefield ordered McGowen arrested and upped his bail to $250,000.
McGowen is charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child and faces up to life in prison if convicted. His lawyer didn’t present any evidence or call witnesses.
Prosecutors say the then-11-year-old girl was sexually assaulted on at least five occasions. All six juveniles and two adults have pleaded guilty.
Ashley Huynh, a nurse who examined the victim at a hospital after an incident in November 2010, 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.
Huynh and Jennifer Pollock, a DNA expert with Texas Department of Public Safety crime lab in Houston, were the final witnesses 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 analyzed.
When McGowen disappeared Wednesday, courthouse security wasn’t required to follow him because he was out on bail, said Liberty County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Greene. Greene said the sheriff’s office was notified by the court bailiff when the defendant didn’t return from an afternoon break.
Greene said McGowen should be considered armed and dangerous, but declined to comment on other questions about the suspect’s disappearance.
Defense attorney Matthew Poston and prosecutors haven’t commented on McGowen’s disappearance because of a gag order.
Prosecutors say the girl was assaulted on at least five occasions from mid-September through early December of 2010.
Eight of the 20 defendants accused in the case have pleaded guilty, including all six juveniles.
Authorities began investigating that December, after one of the girl’s friends told a teacher he had seen a cellphone video of her being attacked in an abandoned trailer.
Three of those who pleaded guilty – two adults and a juvenile who has since turned 18 – testified Wednesday.
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.
Ross and Porchia each received 15-year prison terms. The six juveniles who pleaded guilty each received suspended seven-year prison terms.
The case sparked outrage in the roughly 9,000-strong community of Cleveland. Early in the investigation, some residents suggested the girl was partly responsible because they say she wore makeup, looked older than her age and wasn’t properly supervised by her parents, drawing widespread condemnation.
The case also 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.