A white football player originally charged with assaulting an African-American mentally disabled teammate after a practice in October 2015 pleaded guilty to a lesser felony Friday. Prosecutors now say it wasn’t a sex crime.
John R.K. Howard, 19, of Keller, Texas, pleaded guilty to a felony count of injury to a child and will be sentenced to two to three years of probation and up to 300 hours of community serve, according to the Idaho Statesman.
Howard will avoid prison or jail time for the incident in which he and two other Dietrich (Idaho) football players were charged with the sexual assault of a disabled teammate using a coat hanger.
By submitting an Alford plea, Howard maintains his innocence while acknowledging prosecutors would likely be able to win a conviction if the case went to trial.
Per the Statesman, Deputy Attorney General Casey Hemmer said that if the case had gone to trial, prosecutors would have proved that Howard kicked a coat hanger into the victim’s rectum after another football player put the hanger there.
“Based on continuing investigation throughout this case — interviewing of witnesses, speaking with the victim and getting a better picture of what happened in this case — the state believes this is the appropriate charge,” Hemmer said. “It was egregious behavior, it caused this victim a lot of suffering, but it is not, in my view, a sex crime, which is why the state has amended this charge. We don’t believe it’s appropriate for Mr. Howard to suffer the consequences of a sex offender, but he still needs to be held accountable.”
Howard’s attorney, Brad Calbo, agreed with Hemmer’s telling of the state’s evidence but said “it needs to be crystal clear, in this record, for this court, that this victim was not at any time pinned down, raped, or pinned down and subjected to any sort of forcible penetration.”
Hemmer agreed and said there was no evidence supporting those claims.
According to the attorney for the victim’s family, R. Keith Roark, in a Monday interview with the Washington Post, the plea agreement was met with “bitter disappointment and outrage.”
“It’s absolutely preposterous that this kid should walk away with apparently no punishment whatsoever,” Roark told the Post. “Everyone is more concerned with these young sociopaths than the victim of their violence.”
According to the Idaho deputy attorney general, another of the football players charged in the case as a juvenile has pleaded guilty in juvenile court.
Howard will be sentenced Feb. 24.