ROCKVILLE, MARYLAND —
Prosecutors said Friday they are dropping charges against two Hispanic teens accused of raping a 14-year-old girl in a Maryland high school restroom, a case that drew national attention after the White House cited it as an example of why the president wants to crack down on illegal immigration.
Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy said at a news conference that the rape and sex offense charges were being dropped after a "painstaking investigation" of a 14-year-old girl's claim that the two teens took turns raping her in the bathroom at Rockville High School.
Defense attorneys said the sex was consensual. They pointed to text messages in which the girl agreed to a sexual encounter, an explicit video the girl sent one of the teens, and security camera footage which they said shows the girl running to meet one of the teens and willingly entering the restroom with him.
At the news conference, McCarthy said the girl was interviewed multiple times and the investigation revealed a "lack of corroboration and substantial inconsistencies."
"The original charges cannot be sustained, and prosecution is untenable on those charges," McCarthy said. He refused to answer any questions after reading his statement.
While dropping the rape charges, prosecutors brought new child pornography charges against the two teens. McCarthy said the 18-year-old, Henry Sanchez, will be charged with possession of child pornography, which carries a potential sentence of up to five years.
He declined to say what charges would be brought against the 17-year-old, because that case has now been transferred to juvenile court. But the younger teen's lawyers said the boy would face charges on counts of distributing and possessing child pornography, and that the charges carry a possible sentence of 10 years or more.
The AP does not typically identify juveniles charged with crimes and is no longer naming the 17-year-old now that he is charged as a juvenile.
Explicit video from girl
Defense lawyer Maria Mena said the pornography charges stem from the explicit video that the 14-year-old girl sent to the 17-year-old, which he then shared with Sanchez.
She called it "egregious" that her client was being charged, while the 14-year-old girl who actually produced the video and sent it to him voluntarily is not being charged.
"Obviously this young girl was not raped, as we've said from the beginning," she said. The purpose of the child pornography statute, she said, is to deter adults from engaging in predatory conduct against kids, not to criminalize sexting between two minors.
Another defense attorney, David Wooten, said the primary reason they were able to prove the 17-year-old's innocence was by producing the evidence of the explicit text messages and video that the girl had sent.
"Those very text messages and images that vindicated him are now being used against him," he said.
White House comments
The 17-year-old came to the U.S. from El Salvador to live with relatives who are U.S. citizens after his adoptive grandmother died in El Salvador, leaving him alone there, his lawyers said. Mena said Friday that immigration proceedings have been initiated against him but they will fight to keep him in the country.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the 18-year-old, Sanchez, was stopped by a border patrol agent in Texas last year and that an immigration detainer has been placed on him.
In March, after the charges were filed, White House spokesman Sean Spicer, in response to a reporter's question, called the allegations shocking and disturbing, saying "I think part of the reason that the president has made illegal immigration and crackdown such a big deal is because of tragedies like this."
After those comments, the school system stepped up security as it became the subject of anti-immigration protests and counter protests. Officials said they were besieged by hundreds of racist and xenophobic calls and comments.