A former Idaho high school football player originally charged with forcibly raping a mentally disabled Black teammate following an October 2015 football practice entered a plea deal on Friday that will lessen his initial charge and keep him out of jail.
According to the Twin Fall Times-News, 18-year-old John R.K. Howard on Friday pleaded guilty to a lesser felony charge stemming from the brutal locker room attack at Dietrich High School last year where he and two other white males sexually assaulted fellow teammate Antwon McDaniel, 18, with a coat hanger. Howard was charged with a single felony count of injury to a child and will be sentenced to two-to-three years of probation, which he’ll likely serve in Texas, where he now lives.
Prosecutors also recommended that he be ordered to serve 300 hours of community service, the Twin Fall Times-News reported.
However, the former football player won’t see the inside of a jail cell anytime soon, if at all. Friday’s plea deal, backed by Judge Randy Stoker, included a withheld judgement, which means that Stoker will order Howard to be placed on probation but will not order him to serve time in prison. The only way Howard would go to jail is if he violates his probation, in which case he could be sentenced to up to 10 years behind bars and fined up to $50,000.
If Howard successfully completes his probation with no issues, he could have his conviction dismissed altogether. This component of the plea bargain, which also allows him to maintain his innocence while acknowledging that he’d likely be convicted at trial, is in stark contrast to the life-in-prison term he faced with his original felony charge of forcible sexual penetration by a foreign object.
Deputy Attorney General Casey Hemmer acknowledged Howard’s attack was “egregious” and would likely scar McDaniel for life, but he maintained that the act wasn’t a sex crime. He claimed that at no point was the victim “pinned down, raped or pinned down and subjected to any sort of forcible penetration,” by the Dietrich football players.
“We don’t believe it’s appropriate for Mr. Howard to suffer the consequences of a sex offender,” Hemmer said. “But he still needs to be held accountable.”
The deputy attorney also told the judge that he didn’t think the attack on McDaniel was racially motivated. “I will say that there are things that we found going around that school and that locker room involving a lot of the parties here that had racial undertones,” Hemmer said. “But it’s not our belief that this was a racially motivated crime. This was more of a vulnerable victim-motivated crime. I think it probably would have happened to anybody that was in the same kind of circumstances and mental state as the victim here.”
According to Buzzfeed News, members of the local Idaho Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence completely disagreed and argued that the football players’ actions were both acts of racism and sexual assault.
“The young man who was brutally penetrated was viewed as less than our dominant culture ‘ideal’ of masculinity,” the coalition wrote in a Facebook post Saturday. “This was a sex crime.”
“The actions by the football players and Dietrich High School were racist, a climate where hate and ugliness were tolerated,” the statement continued. “This was racism.”
Earlier this year, McDaniel testified that he was lured into the boy’s locker room by Howard and two other teammates that night after practice when one of the players lodged a coat hanger in his anus. He said Howard then kicked the hanger five or six times.
There were no coaches of staff in the locker room at the time of the incident.
The victim’s family has since filed a $10 million lawsuit against the high school, administrators and coaches, accusing officials of failing to intervene following months of racial and physical abuse aimed the 18-year-old boy, according to Atlanta Black Star. The case is currently making its way through the court system.
Howard is expected to be sentenced on Feb. 24, 2017. The other two players have already been tried in juvenile court.