PHOENIX – A teenage Liberian refugee charged in the gang-rape of an 8-year-old girl in Phoenix last summer pleaded guilty in the case Tuesday, authorities said.
Maricopa County prosecutors said the 15-year-old boy, who was transferred from adult court to juvenile court last week, pleaded guilty to sexual assault, kidnapping, three counts of sexual conduct with a minor and one count of attempted sexual conduct with a minor. He will remain in detention until an April 27 hearing.
The Associated Press is not naming the teen because of his age. He was 14 at the time of the July assault and had been the only one of four boys charged as an adult. All the children involved are refugees from the war-torn West African nation of Liberia.
Prosecutors said the girl was lured July 16 to an empty storage shed at a west Phoenix apartment complex with the promise of chewing gum. The oldest boy admitted holding the victim down while he and three other boys — ages 9, 10 and 13 — sexually assaulted the girl, according to authorities.
Defense attorneys for the 15-year-old said the boy most likely will be sent to a residential treatment center with 24-hour supervision for a year or more. Prosecutors said he could have faced more than 25 years in prison if convicted as an adult in the case.
Authorities said juveniles are not given fixed prison sentences, and instead are constantly evaluated on whether they should be released, maintained in treatment facilities or sent to a juvenile corrections facility. When they turn 18, they age out of the system and must be released, although the boy still could be forced to register as a sex offender until he turns 25.
The youngest of the boys accused in the case already has been deemed incompetent to stand trial. His charges were dropped, but he remains in foster care. The other two boys still are charged in juvenile court and are taking lessons designed to make them competent to stand trial.
The case prompted an international outcry after police reported the girl's father said she brought shame on the family and he didn't want her back — comments a family pastor later said were misunderstood because of a language barrier.
State child welfare officials have custody of the girl. Her 59-year-old father and 47-year-old mother were each charged in November with eight child abuse counts for abuse and neglect reports dating back to 2005.
Liberians worldwide are watching the case, and many are concerned about how they will be perceived because of the attack. Rape was a common practice during the country's 14 years of civil war, but Liberia now has some of the strictest laws against the crime in all of Africa.
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com