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Judge lifts order barring news media from reporting on documents related to Walker Middle School rape accusations

TAMPA — Four juveniles accused of raping a teammate inside a Walker Middle School locker room blamed each other in their statements to law enforcement, according to records released Friday after a court fight.

The teens have pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of sexual assault. Prosecutors charged them as adults and say they used a hockey stick and broom handle in their attacks.

The new records show two of the teens accused each other of suggesting they "get" the victim after a scuffle on the football field.

Diemante J. Roberts wanted to retaliate because the victim had grabbed a rosary given to him by his grandmother, one of the teens said. Randall John Moye III said Roberts asked him to get back at the victim by hitting him during a scrimmage.

Roberts, 15, Moye, 14, Raymond Price-Murray, 14, and Lee Louis Myers, 14, each gave written statements that prosecutors say implicate them in the assault.

In his statement to law enforcement, Roberts said Price-Murray got a broomstick from behind the bleachers and said, "Let's get (the victim)."

"We put the broomstick up his butt," Roberts wrote. "Guys on the team pulled his pants down and put the hockey stick up his butt again. First time, it was a broomstick, and the second time it was a hockey stick."

Price-Murray said it was Roberts who made the comment about getting the victim. Teammates jumped on top of the boy, and Roberts used a hockey stick on him, Price-Murray said in his statement.

"We were just goofing off," he wrote in parentheses. Price-Murray also said the victim may have thought the defendant tried to assault him because Price-Murray was holding the stick in his hand. But Price-Murray said he had taken the stick from another boy to hit Roberts as Roberts tried to put a stick in Price-Murrary's rear end.

Myers said the victim fell to the ground when he saw them heading his way.

"I held his arms while Raymond helped me," Myers wrote. The incident lasted 15 to 20 seconds, he said.

"After it happened, I walked up and said we were just playing around and didn't mean to hurt his feelings," Myers said.

Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys wanted the teens' statements made public. A Hillsborough judge on Thursday agreed with their request to ban media outlets from publishing stories referencing the materials after a journalist for WFLA-Ch. 8 obtained the records from the clerk's office.

WFLA-Ch. 8 and the Tampa Tribune posted a story that remained on their Web site, tbo.com, for more than a hour before Circuit Judge Emmett Battles ordered them to remove it.

On Friday, Battles reversed himself after hearing arguments from attorneys and researching case law.

He said the issue presented a conflict between the First Amendment right to a free press and the rights of defendants to a fair trial.

"Inadvertent or not, there was a failure to safeguard these statements and they were released to the press," Battles said, reading his decision from the bench. "It would be unlawful and improper prior restraint to continue the order that was entered yesterday.''

Battles said he was concerned about the possible effect on the ongoing criminal proceeding but that the law left him no choice. After the ruling, the Hills­borough State Attorney's Office released an edited version of the documents.

Court officials called the initial release of the documents a mistake. Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys knew the statements had been placed into a court file in the clerk's office, they said.

Defense attorney Tim Taylor urged the judge to keep his initial order in place, saying the documents "would cause irreparable damage if the information were published again."

He said during the short time the article was on tbo.com, he read 28 reader comments spewing hatred toward the teens. Some readers, he said, wrote that the defendants should "burn in hell" or be raped themselves.

"What we're doing right now is potentially poisoning the jury pool," Taylor said.

Gregg Thomas, an attorney for WFLA, the Tampa Tribune and tbo.com, said the documents were legally obtained and accurately reported.

The documents also included the names of 23 potential witnesses, all of them juveniles.

Taylor, who represents Myers, called the ruling "unfortunate."

Defense attorney Bryant Camareno, who represents Price-Murray, said his client's mother was concerned about the threatening comments by tbo.com readers.

"I'm still concerned about the safety of my client," Camareno said.

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Judge lifts order barring news media from reporting on documents related to Walker Middle School rape accusations 07/31/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 1, 2009 1:43am]
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