The Twin Falls Times-News
reports 19-year-old John R. K. Howard, one of the three Dietrich High School football players charged with the October 2015 sexual assault of a black, mentally disabled teammate
, has pleaded guilty to the lesser felony of injury to a child—the previous felony charge against Howard was forcible penetration by a foreign object. The prosecutor is now saying the assault wasn't racially motivated, and it wasn't a sex crime.
Howard, of Keller, Texas, is one of the two suspects in the crime charged as adults. The third suspect was tried in juvenile court.
According to the Times-News
, Keller, who submitted an Alford plea, will likely be sentenced to two- to three-years of probation when he returns to court on February 24, 2017, but will "avoid prison or jail time and could ultimately have his conviction dismissed if he successfully completes probation without violations or committing new crimes. And by submitting an Alford plea, he maintains his innocence while acknowledging prosecutors would likely be able to win a conviction at trial."
Deputy Attorney General Casey Hemmer, who is prosecuting the case, said while Howard's behavior was "egregious," it was not a sex crime.
“We don’t believe it’s appropriate for Mr. Howard to suffer the consequences of a sex offender,” Hemmer said in court.
"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."
reports Howard’s attorney, Brad Calbo, "agreed with Hemmer’s recounting of the state’s evidence but said, 'It needs to be crystal clear … that this victim was not at any time pinned down, raped, or pinned down and subjected to any sort of forcible penetration.'"
District Judge Randy Stoker imposed a gag order in the case, warning attorneys from both sides no to speak to the media until sentences are handed down.