UPDATE: (KHOU) - Jared Cruse has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in the gang rape of an 11-year-old Cleveland, Texas girl
CLEVELAND (KHOU) — Jurors returned a guilty verdict Wednesday for Jared Cruse, the second of 21 suspects accused in the now infamous gang rapes of an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas.
Closing arguments took less an hour Wednesday morning.
The girl was raped repeatedly in the fall of 2010.
Cruse, 20, is shown on cell phone video in a sexual act with the girl. Prosecutors say it was one of numerous sexual encounters by 21 adult men and juvenile boys on at least five different occasions ending in November of 2010.
"I don't know exactly. There was like a lot of them," the girl told the first nurse to examine her when she went public with the assaults in December 2010.
"They started calling over homeboys saying ‘come get some'" she said of the assaults.
Cruse, identified clearly by the cell phone video the men and boys took during the assaults, was also identified by one of his friends, Jared McPherson. McPherson struck a plea deal with prosecutors. He admitted he was involved in the assaults and accepted a 15-year sentence. Prosecutors brought him to the courtroom Tuesday in his orange prison jumpsuit and shackles to testify against his former friend.
While a dozen of the accused have accepted plea deals, Cruse was the second to take his chances in court. In September Eric McGowen, identified as one of the attackers through the same cell phone video and with DNA, was sentenced by a Liberty County jury to 99 years in prison.
But in the sexual assault trial for Cruse, defense attorney Steve Taylor took one extra calculated step. The girl, now 13 years old, was called by prosecutors to testify. In his cross-examination Taylor ended by asking the girl if she "was a willing participant" to the sexual encounter captured on video with Cruse and others. The girl, clearly struggling to understand the question, asked the attorney to repeat it. She thought about it for several seconds before answering, "Yes sir."
Prosecutors argue her answer doesn't matter. She was 11 years old and, under Texas law, can't legally consent to sex with anyone of any age. They said that Cruse, who has admitted he had sex with the girl and also made her perform sex acts on him, is guilty of rape regardless of what the girl did or did not agree to do.
Cruse faces a minimum of 25 years in prison. The sentencing phase will begin immediately.