A White man who pleaded guilty to assaulting a Black mentally disabled high school student with a coat hanger walked out of court Friday a free man.
The Washington Post reports that John R.K. Howard’s attorneys claimed that the victim fabricated stories of chronic abuse and harassment by members of the school’s football team.
The victim’s parents stormed out of the courtroom following the verdict, calling it unfair and appearing to be visibly shaken after the ordeal.
There is still a $10 million lawsuit open against the school over the Oct. 2015 attack. Even Deitrick, Idaho, Mayor Don Heiken told The Guardian that Howard “got a slap on the wrist.”
The victim, who grew up in Dietrich since being adopted at age 4 along with his siblings, made up nearly all of the town’s African-American population. By age 17, he was playing football at Dietrich High School, where his father taught science.
In court papers, Tim and Shelly McDaniel referred to Howard as the ringleader of their son’s tormentors. They also say that he was continuously tormented by Howard and other members of the team, routinely forced to sing racist songs and was harassed with racially insensitive language, the lawsuit claims. He was reportedly photographed naked at school and hurled racial slurs.
“It liks [sic] to pound you to the ground, and lock the door for your opportunities, and leave you helpless, without a sound,” the teen wrote about his high school experiences.
A criminal complaint alleges that one student offered him a hug in the locker room, a second shoved a wire hanger into his rectum and Howard kicked it in.
Since the incident, the teen’s adoptive parents say he has tried to commit suicide on multiple occasions.
Howard was 18 at the time of the attack. He faced a sentence of up to life in prison when he and his co-conspirators where charged with sexual assault last spring. The two others charged in the incident were not of legal age, so their cases are sealed.
By December, Howard struck a deal with the state and as a result, the sex charges were dropped. Instead, Howard pleaded guilty to injury to a child, with the possibility that his conviction might one day be erased after serving probation.
“It’s absolutely preposterous that this kid should walk away with apparently no punishment whatsoever,” Attorney R. Keith Roark, who is representing the victim’s family said.
A petition to remove Randy Stoker, the district judge presiding over Howard’s case, garnered more than 150,000 signatures. But it was Stoker’s courtroom that handed down Friday’s decision.
At the hearing, Stoker dismissed a complaint that the victim’s nickname was “fried chicken” at school. He railed against the “people from the east coast” who “have no idea what this case is about.”
“This is not a rape case,” he said.“If I thought you have committed this offense for racial purposes, you would go straight to the Idaho penitentiary,” the judge told Howard before sentencing him to probation.
The victim’s parents and family have left the small town since the 2015 incident. The victim currently lives in an assisted living facility.