Two Lockport teenagers convicted in what was originally described as a gang rape were granted youthful offender status during sentencing Thursday in Niagara County Court.
One teen was sentenced to 60 days in jail, six years' probation and a $1,000 fine for sexual misconduct, a misdemeanor, after admitting that he had sexual intercourse with the girl, who was under the age of consent.
The other was sentenced to 1 1/3 to four years in state prison for aggravated first-degree and aggravated third-degree sexual abuse, for violating the 15-year-old girl with a broomstick.
County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza's ruling seals the convictions and the sentences for the two 17-year-old boys, who were convicted May 18 after an emotional two-week trial. It also means the two teens will not have to register as sex offenders.
"I'm very happy," said Niagara County Public Defender David J. Farrugia, the lawyer for the teen convicted of violating the girl with a broomstick. "If she had refused the youthful offender status, he goes away for at least five years. He has to register as a sex offender for life. None of that happens now."
That teen faced a minimum of five years in prison and a maximum of 25 years if Sperrazza had sentenced him without youthful offender status.
The defendant who drew the lighter sentence Thursday acknowledged that the girl had suffered but insisted he had, too.
"She went through a lot. I went through a lot, too," he said, noting he was kicked off the football team and his grades suffered while the case was hanging over his head.
"There has to be a price paid," Sperrazza replied. "Because you screwed up in school for a year, that's not a punishment. That you see yourself as a victim, that concerns me."
The teen who drew the harsher sentence read a letter he would have read to the girl if she had been in court, asking her forgiveness.
"I pray for a second chance. Words cannot express how sorry I feel about that day. I ask you not to seek revenge but to do what is right," it said.
Sperrazza admitted that the teen, a basketball player and budding artist, has talent. But she said that he continued to deny having sex with the girl or using the broomstick, even when interviewed by a probation officer for a presentencing report.
"My words must have got confused," he told the judge in court Thursday.
"You are a very talented young man," Sperrazza said, "but there's something wrong inside that could provoke you to do what you did."
The sentences reduced a large crowd of the defendants' friends and relatives to tears.
Some ran sobbing from the courtroom before the two were led out in handcuffs. One man tried to run toward one of the teens as he stood at the defense table but was held back by a sheriff's deputy.
Anthony J. Lana, the attorney for the teen sentenced to 60 days in jail, argued at length that the girl could easily have been charged with having sex with a minor, too. He said the law is meant to protect adolescents from adults, not from each other.
"To say it's a crime for the male and not for the female is preposterous," Lana said. "It's unfair. It's not equal protection of the law."
"I don't believe Mr. Lana's comments are relevant," said Assistant District Attorney Claudette S. Antholzner, who declined to comment on the sentences.
A third 17-year-old, also of Lockport, who admitted to recording a brief video clip of the incident on his cell phone, pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child and was granted youthful offender status May 24.
The May 12, 2006, incident occurred in the Lock Street home of a fourth 17-year-old. He and the two defendants in court Thursday originally were charged with rape, but the jury acquitted the teen who was at home of all charges and also rejected the rape counts against Thursday's defendants.
The victim's mother said in court that her daughter was diagnosed at age 6 with bipolar disorder and a mild case of autism. After the girl went through puberty, her medication was no longer as effective, her mother said, so the victim was sent for a time to a group home, which is where she was living when the incident occurred.
"Although she made a stupid decision that day by going to that house, she didn't deserve the treatment she got there," the mother said.