Houston — Four southeast Texas men who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl were sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison.
The charges stemmed from a gang rape two years ago in the Liberty County town of Cleveland, about 45 miles northeast of Houston. The men are among 20 people charged in a series of sexual assaults on the girl, which allegedly occurred over several months.
Six youths and six of the 14 adults charged in connection with the assaults have accepted plea deals.
On Friday, Jared McPherson, 20, was sentenced first, receiving a 15-year term, a Liberty County court clerk said. McPherson, who had been free on bond, didn't say anything before he was sentenced and was taken into custody, the clerk said.
Later in the afternoon, the three other men were sentenced: Rayford Ellis, 21, his cousin Timothy Ellis, 20, and Kelvin King, 23. The trio hugged family members before being taken away by authorities, according to the Associated Press.
All four had pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated sexual assault of a child, and the sentences were part of their deal, clerks said.
The case caused rifts in Cleveland, population about 8,000, due in part to the young age and behavior of the girl involved, with some people saying she'd acted provocatively, as well as her ethnicity: She is Latino, her alleged assailants all African American.
Investigators were alerted to the crime when one of the girl’s middle school classmates saw a cellphone video showing her being sexually assaulted and reported it to a teacher.
One defendant, Eric McGowen, 20, opted for a trial. During that trial, prosecutors presented a videotaped confession and testimony from nearly a dozen witnesses, including the alleged victim, now 13. McGowen fled Aug. 29 before the jury convicted him, and he was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
After a massive manhunt, investigators tracked McGowen down in Houston; he was arrested Sept. 11 and taken into custody to begin serving his sentence.
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