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Student could get up to 6 months in jail or 6 years' probation in rape

A Niagara Falls high school student accused of raping a fellow student in a school stairwell last year could face up to six months in jail when he is sentenced Aug. 5.

The teen also could face up to six years of probation, but in that case would not have to serve jail time, lawyers involved in the case said Thursday. The teen also has been granted youthful-offender status and will not have to register as a sex offender.

"This should be resolved with a youthful-offender disposition, which would be a noncriminal status," said Paul J. Cambria, the 17-year-old's defense lawyer. "I won't try to guess, but I don't believe incarceration is appropriate at all."

The teen was supposed to be sentenced Thursday, but a City Court judge postponed sentencing to give himself time to read a nearly 50-page memorandum Cambria submitted on behalf of his client that included letters of support, professional evaluations and information from character witnesses.

Nearly eight months ago, the student was charged with first-degree rape and first-degree sexual assault. The family of the victim agreed to a plea bargain to spare the girl from a trial, and the student pleaded guilty Jan. 26 to sexual misconduct.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Zucco said it was unlikely the teen will face state prison time, but under the sentencing guidelines could face a maximum of six months in the Niagara County Jail or a maximum of six years of probation, but not both.

The teen also could be given a combination of jail and fewer years on probation, Zucco said.

The student was 16 and a junior when the case began; his victim was 14. The boy returned to school after his plea and plans to return to the school for his senior year, Cambria said.

The girl's attorney, Michael O. Morse of Buffalo, could not be reached to comment. He has previously told The Buffalo News that a civil lawsuit will be filed.

Cambria said in January that the case, which police called a type of "date rape," had been "blown out of proportion."

Judge Angelo J. Morinello, in granting the plea and allowing the student to return to school, said the teen is to have no contact with the girl or he will be immediately incarcerated.

The teen remains free on $10,000 bail.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com