Four teenagers charged in the alleged gang rape of a 13-year-old girl will face trial, an El Paso County judge ruled Thursday at the conclusion of a multiday hearing.
Fourth Judicial District Judge Michael McHenry found that evidence was strong enough to try Jacolby Williams, 20, Clarence Williams, 18, Tommy Williams, 19, and Tyron Williams, 18, on suspicion of sex assault on a child.
Two other co-defendants weren't present at the hearings. A 16-year-old boy accused of participating in the sexual assault has been cited in a juvenile petition and will be prosecuted in separate proceedings, and James Williams, 19, waived his right to an evidentiary review by McHenry in favor of a dispositional hearing - sometimes a sign that a guilty plea is in the works.
Thursday's ruling marked the culmination of a four-part preliminary hearing marked by contentious questioning and conflict among family members of those involved.
Relatives on both sides of the case sometimes called out from the gallery as attorneys sparred over the victim's changing descriptions of how the assault unfolded or when discussions turned to trenchant details of the sex acts the girl said were involved.
McHenry stopped testimony on Feb. 4 - Day 3 - after an outburst in which some attendees left court and others rushed after, as if headed for a confrontation. A series of heated exchanges in the hallway stopped short of turning physical, though members on each side of the case were barred from re-entering the courtroom for the day.
Some of the defendants were also repeatedly admonished by deputies not to communicate with each other or members of the audience.
Despite sharing the same last name, the defendants aren't all related, attorneys said.
Jacolby Williams, Tyron Williams and the 16-year-old are brothers. Tommy Williams and Clarence Williams are brothers and James Williams is their cousin.
The five adult defendants face the potential of up to life in prison under Colorado's stringent sex-offense laws, which allow prisons to hold sex offenders beyond their sentence, up to life, until they pass stringent sex-offender treatment while in custody.
Many defense attorneys call "indeterminate" sex-offender sentencing a de facto life sentence, though prosecutors dispute their characterization, saying people have been released under the sentencing scheme.
The girl, whose name is being withheld, told detectives she was held down and raped Dec. 19 in a darkened bedroom during a visit to an apartment belonging to Jacolby Williams, an acquaintance she knew as Kurse. She said all six teens were involved, though she couldn't clearly identify them.
In cross-examining witnesses, defense attorneys probed inconsistencies in her statements, suggesting that some or all of her story was concocted.
In recalling how she got from the Citadel Mall to the apartment where the assault unfolded, for example, she wavered on what type of car she rode in, who drove and who else was in the vehicle.
At one point, she said she went to the apartment with two friends who left before the assault. One of the girls she named told police she wasn't there at all. She also reportedly told a friend that DNA proved she was raped, though authorities say they have yet to obtain DNA results.
Prosecutors countered by eliciting testimony downplaying the significance of such differences, which they argue are common, and they say physical evidence in the case supports the girl's account of sexual activity. A rape examination conducted after she reported the abuse found evidence of vaginal tearing, and a detective who searched Jacolby Williams' apartment found oil stains and a condom wrapper that he said corroborated her story.
During police interrogations, Jacolby Williams, James Williams and Tyron Williams denied sexual activity with the girl.
But Clarence Williams and Tommy Williams admitted they had sexual contact with her, though they maintained she was willing - a distinction irrelevant in the law.
In Colorado, people under 15 are incapable of granting consent for sex acts with adults. The statute is also a "strict liability" law, meaning it doesn't matter if they believed she was older.
"When you're younger than 15, the law protects you regardless of your own negligence or ignorance," said Ted McClintock, a Colorado Springs defense attorney who specializes in sex crimes cases.
Only the juvenile accused in the crime can legally argue at trial that he believed the girl was older than her real age, because the defense is barred only if there's at least a four-year age difference between victim and defendant, said McClintock, who isn't affiliated with the case.
In an 11th-hour wrinkle to the case, Judge McHenry threw out the high charge against Clarence and Tommy Williams because a prosecutor filed the wrong charge as the result of a clerical error.
The judge will allow prosecutors to reinstate the charge in each case, but the misstep has the potential to roil scheduling, because both defendants are entitled to another preliminary hearing once the new charge is filed, McHenry ruled.
The judge brushed aside complaints by defense attorneys about the girl's veracity, citing the lax evidentiary standard at preliminary hearings, where judges are directed by the law to ignore questions of credibility and to consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution.
Her credibility - and the holes in her story - will likely emerge as the core issue once the cases reach trial, however.
At the conclusion of Thursday's proceedings, Jacolby Williams pleaded not guilty and was scheduled for trial in May.
Clarence and Tommy Williams must return to court Feb. 14 for the filing of new charges.
The judge scheduled a Feb. 21 arraignment for Tyrone Williams.
At least four of the defendants are being held in lieu of bond at the El Paso County jail.