A drunk 16-year-old boy filmed himself assaulting an intoxicated 16-year-old girl from behind in a darkened basement gym at a pajama-themed party in New Jersey. The girl’s head, hanging down, repeatedly hit the wall. Prosecutors said the boy later sent the video to seven of his friends, texting them, “[w]hen your first time having sex was rape."
Monmouth County prosecutors in 2017 sought to charge the boy as an adult with first-degree aggravated sexual assault, among other charges, saying that he “engaged in vaginal intercourse” with the girl when she was “visibly intoxicated, physically helpless and unable to provide consent.”
His behavior, prosecutors said, was “sophisticated and predatory,” warranting a waiver of the juvenile to adult court.
But a New Jersey family court judge last July denied the prosecutors’ motion to try the boy as an adult — on the grounds that he was an Eagle Scout who came “from a good family” and who could get into a “good college” because of his excellent grades.
Judge James Troiano also suggested that the boy’s alleged actions didn’t fit “the traditional case of rape” — which, according to him, occurs when “two or more men” “clearly manhandle” a victim at gunpoint.
Troiano also expressed concerns that the prosecutor had not explained to the alleged victim “the devastating effect” the case would have on the accuser’s life if he was tried as an adult.
As to the teen’s text message to his friends referring to the rape, Troiano dismissed it as “stupid crap” a 16-year-old says to his friends.
Last month, an appeals court overturned Troiano’s decision and criticized his apparent bias towards teens from “good families.”
The two-judge appellate panel also admonished Troiano for sounding like he was conducting a trial instead of “neutrally” reviewing the Monmouth County prosecutor’s waiver motion.
“That the juvenile came from a good family and had good test scores we assume would not condemn the juveniles who do not come from good families and do not have good test scores from withstanding waiver applications,” the appellate judges wrote in a 14-page ruling issued on June 14.
The appellate judges reprimanded Troiano for “[deciding] the case for himself” by considering the accused boy’s “prior good character.”
The judge “sounded as if he had conducted a bench trial on the charges rather than neutrally reviewed the State's application,” the appellate panel said.
With the appellate panel’s ruling, the case will be heard in the Superior Court of New Jersey, instead of family court.
Three days after the appellate judges’ ruling, the same two-judge panel overturned another family court judge’s decision not to try a 16-year-old boy as an adult after the teen was accused of raping a 12-year-old girl in Middlesex County. In that case, family court Judge Marcia Silva determined the teen’s actions were not “heinous” because the victim only lost her virginity and bled, which the judge believed was not “especially serious harm.”
While the original court documents in these cases are sealed, the family court judges’ controversial opinions came to light when the appellate division made their rulings in June, prompting national attention after reporting by New Jersey radio station 101.5.
A New Jersey court representative for Judge Troiano and attorneys for the 16-year-old accused in Monmouth County did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment. BuzzFeed News was unable to leave a message at an office phone number associated with Judge Silva.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Monmouth County prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said: “While we have the utmost respect for the Family Court and the judge in this case, we are grateful that the Appellate Division agreed with our assessment that this case met the legal standards for waiver to Superior Court.”
Gramiccioni said that his office is “assessing next steps, which will include discussions with the victim and her family.”
Under New Jersey law, prosecutors can seek a waiver for juveniles as young as 15 to be tried as adults for crimes including sexual assault, which is the legal term for rape in the state.
The appellate panel rulings in both cases laid out some of the details of the prosecutors’ cases and both the family judges’ opinions.
The alleged sexual assault in Monmouth County took place at an alcohol-fueled pajama-themed party attended by around 30 adolescents at an unspecified date.
The teenage boy, referred to as G.M.C. in the appellate ruling, and the 16-year-old victim, identified by an alias, “Mary,” were both drunk at the party. Mary’s speech was slurred and she was stumbling as she walked.
While she was on a sofa, a group of boys sprayed Febreze on her bottom and slapped it with such force that the next day she had hand marks on her buttocks.
During the party, Mary and G.M.C. “walked off” into a darkened, closed-off area of a basement gym.
“G.M.C. filmed himself penetrating Mary from behind on his cell phone, displaying her bare torso, and her head hanging down,” the appellate ruling said. He left the room when he was finished. When some of his friends checked on Mary, she was on the floor vomiting and continued to be sick until she was driven home by a friend’s mother.
The next morning, Mary told her mother what had happened but did not understand how she got the bruise marks on her body or how her clothing was torn.
Over the next few months, Mary discovered that G.M.C was sharing the video with his friends and their mutual acquaintances. After she confronted him about it, he denied recording the encounter and accused his friends of lying. Mary’s mother finally contacted the police when G.M.C continued to share the video. Her family’s focus was to stop the dissemination of the clip. The investigating officer in the case urged G.M.C and his friends to delete the video, which they allegedly did.
In 2017, Mary and her family pursued criminal charges against the teen. The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office charged him with first-degree aggravated sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault, third-degree invasion of privacy (filming) and third-degree endangering the welfare of a child, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a)(1); and third-degree invasion of privacy (disclosure of images).
The prosecutor then filed a waiver motion for the case to be heard in adult court.
After a waiver hearing in family court over several days, Judge Troiano denied the motion on July 30, 2018. In his ruling, Troiano wrote, “I still in my mind ... distinguish between a sexual assault and a rape... [In] my mind there is a distinction.”
He said: “There have been some, not many, but some cases of sexual assault involving juveniles which in my mind absolutely were the traditional case of rape, all right, where there were generally two or more generally males involved, either at gunpoint or weapon, clearly manhandling a person into... an area where... there was nobody around, sometimes in an abandon[ed] house, sometimes in an abandon[ed] shed, shack, and just simply taking advantage of the person as well as beating the person, threatening the person.”
Troiano questioned why Mary and her mother decided to pursue criminal charges only after they believed that the video had been deleted. He also disagreed with the prosecutor’s contention that the accused’s actions were “sophisticated and predatory.”
After describing the sexually explicit text messages between G.M.C. and his friends about the incident, Troiano said, “It really doesn't make a lot of difference because the whole paragraph to me is just a 16-year-old kid saying stupid crap to his friends.”
The judge then detailed G.M.C’s school achievements and extracurricular activities, including his being an Eagle Scout.
“[The] young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well,” the judge said. “He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college. His scores for college entry were very high.”
In the Middlesex County case, the 16-year-old accused — identified as E.R.M. in the appellate panel ruling — and the 12-year-old victim, became “boyfriend and girlfriend” sometime in July 2017 when their families were sharing homes.
One afternoon, after smoking marijuana with his friends on the porch, E.R.M. followed the girl into the house after she had returned from school. He pushed her onto a bed in her cousin’s room, removed her clothes, grabbed her hands, and “penetrated her with force” while wearing a condom.
The girl told him “no,” repeatedly tried to push him off, attempted to bite him, and asked him to stop, but he refused. She began to bleed.
She managed to get away eventually and ran to a friend’s house. They ended their relationship soon after that. A family member told the 12-year-old girl’s mother about the alleged assault after hearing E.R.M. discuss it with his friends.
E.R.M. was charged with first-degree aggravated sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault, and third-degree endangering the welfare of a child. The Middlesex County prosecutors then filed a motion to try him as an adult.
In her decision denying the motion, Judge Silva cast doubt on the 12-year-old victim’s credibility and questioned why prosecutors had dismissed the 16-year-old’s claim that the sex was consensual.
Silva then said that even if the alleged victim’s statements were true, the offence “is not an especially heinous or cruel offense.”
She said that although E.R.M’s actions were serious, “they did not demonstrate that he used extreme violence or a weapon against the victim” or that he used “excessive force” against her.
The judge said that the “victim did not suffer any physical or emotional injuries as a result, other than the ramifications of losing her virginity, which the court does not find to be especially serious harm in this case.”
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Middlesex County prosecutor Andrew C. Carey said that in most juvenile delinquency cases, his office resolved the case without involving courts, and in other cases, they were resolved in family court.
“In a very small amount of cases, the right thing to do is to file a motion to waive a juvenile up to adult court,” Carey said. “Prior to doing so, I consider all of the relevant factors extremely carefully.”
Julia Reinstein & Brianna Sacks contributed reporting.