TRENTON, N.J. – The two youngest boys charged with gang-raping a 7-year-old girl last month may have been pressured into confessing and implicating others in the case, according to two people with firsthand knowledge of the police interrogations.
Two men — 20-year-old Gregory Leary and 19-year-old Timear Lewis — and three boys, ages 13, 14 and 17, have been charged with rape at the March 28 party. The girl's sister, who police say sold her to the men during a party in a vacant apartment, was charged with promoting prostitution, aggravated sexual assault and other crimes.
Four days after the party, the 13- and 14-year-old who live near the gritty public housing complex where police say the assault took place were brought in for questioning.
Kevin Main, who represents the 17-year-old and who has reviewed the police interrogations of the boys and the 15-year-old girl, told The Associated Press that investigators put words in the boys' mouths and led them to believe they wouldn't get in trouble.
"Whatever they are agreeing to, it is with the expectation that they go home when they are done," Main said.
Trenton police spokesman Sgt. Pedro Medina declined to comment on the investigation Wednesday other than to say that more arrests were expected. A spokeswoman for the Mercer County prosecutor also declined to comment.
Last week, the 7-year-old's stepfather said Lewis, Leary and the 17-year-old tried to help the girl and were not involved in the rape.
Police have not released the names of the juveniles. The AP generally does not identify people alleging sex crimes and is not naming the 15-year-old or her parents to avoid identifying the 7-year-old.
The younger boys were shown pictures and asked to sign the ones of people they recognized from the party, Main said.
"It's clear which police want them to sign and which one they don't want them to sign," Main said. "At no time did they mention my client's name. When officers brought up my client's name, they got an 'uh-huh' out of one of the kids."
Main and another official with direct knowledge of the interrogation said police pitted the boys, who are good friends, against each other during interviews and told them that the other saw him engaged in sex acts with the child.
The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because the official fears retaliation from police.
According to the official, the 13-year-old boy cried for nearly half the interview and repeatedly asked for his mother.
After extensive questioning, both boys said they had sex with the girl. But in those same interviews, they also indicate that they felt pressured to make up a story and implicate others, according to Main and the official.
"I should just make up a story to get it over with," the official recalls the 13-year-old boy saying.
Jason Hageman, who represents Timear Lewis, said there seemed to be a "concerted effort to coerce these juveniles to admitting to doing something they haven't have done."
He said Lewis didn't have sexual contact with either girl and he is confident that forensic testing will support his claim.
"He has given DNA. He was very open about it. He knew they wouldn't find any of his DNA" on the girl, Hagemen said.
Forensic evidence is still being tested by the state police lab, Trenton police said.
According to the official, the 13-year-old told police that Gregory Leary didn't touch the 7-year-old either, but by the end of the interview, he changed his story and said Leary had raped her.
The boys are learning disabled and the 14-year-old can't read or write, the official said. The 13-year-old boy often seemed confused during the interview, the source said.
At one point, he said the group held down the 15-year-old and had sex with her, but police have said the 15-year-old voluntarily had sex with several men for money.
When police asked him the color of the girl's T-shirt, he said "white," to which police encouraged him to "think again," the official said.
The 14-year-old boy, whose mother and aunt were alternately present during his interview with police, told investigators that if others said he did the crime, he must have done it. The aunt told the boy that since he is a juvenile, he wouldn't be in much trouble.
Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Downing said several witnesses saw Leary having sex with the 7-year-old girl.
Leary denies touching her, and his defense attorney questioned in court whether the 7-year-old was raped at all.
Leary has also been charged with statutory rape for having sex with the 15-year-old, which he admits doing. His attorney has said the girl told everyone at the party that it was her 18th birthday that weekend.
Main said the 15-year-old's story seemed to "change by the minute" and that she seemingly identified people at random during her interview.
The 7-year-old's story of what happened to her closely resembled the sex acts that she may have witnessed being done to her sister, the official said.
The 15-year-old told investigators that she had sex with five men in a back bedroom and her younger sister walked in and witnessed some of it, the official said. The 7-year-old girl told police that five men had intercourse with her and forced her to give them oral sex, the official said.
During the interviews, the 7-year-old also said she and her sister were planning to run away and that she was afraid of getting in trouble when she came home. When she arrived at her house, police were there because their parents had reported the girls missing and told police they feared that the older girl had run away and taken her sister with her.
An affidavit for probable cause alludes to a medical finding that he believes is inconsistent with the injuries from a gang rape, Main said.
"If a gang raped that little girl, I don't think she would be alive," said Shemika Leary, Gregory Leary's sister.