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A trusted teenager is accused of setting up rape and beating of 89-year-old

PORT RICHEY — The house looks like a cheery Easter egg, white with pink trim and shutters, pastel pinwheels in the yard and a God Bless America sticker on the mailbox.

The 89-year-old woman who lives here alone relies on a family for help — mowing her lawn, fixing things around the house, taking her grocery shopping.

Residents in the Palm Terrace Gardens community say that family has a son — 16-year-old Sean Maus, a high-school dropout.

"He's really close to her," said Katlynn Smith, 18, who lives in the neighborhood and said she knows Maus. "She was like his grandmother."

But, according to Smith and others in the neighborhood, Maus betrayed the woman's trust — opening the door for a violent attack this week that has stunned the community.

They said Maus did chores for her just so he could look for valuables. Smith said that for the past several weeks, Maus kept talking about how easy it would be to steal from the woman.

He said he knew where she kept her pocketbook and, a few weeks ago, flashed $300 in cash he said he pinched from it. Soon after that, Smith said he waved around another $100.

"He was proud of it," Smith said.

Then, about 1 a.m. April 2, authorities say, Maus and two other boys from the neighborhood — Carlos Fernandez, 15, and Luis Reyes, 14 — took the hinges off the woman's garage door while she slept and got into the house. They stole a flashlight and took her red Pontiac Sunfire "for a joy ride." The car was recovered.

On Wednesday, Reyes and Fernandez wanted to take it again, detectives said, and chose the same time: 1 a.m. Authorities say the two are dropouts, but friends and family members say they are students at Ridgewood High.

The woman — who is about 4 feet 11 inches and weighs maybe 85 pounds — heard a noise that woke her. This is what she told authorities happened next:

She walked out of her bedroom and saw three masked men. She confronted them, but they pushed her back into her bedroom. She was punched in the face and body and raped. Then the assailants pressed her pillow on her face. "Is she dead yet?" she heard a voice say.

Then she fought back, according to a neighbor who talked with her later. She kicked one in the groin and the assailants fled. She walked a few blocks to a neighbor and was taken to a hospital, where authorities were called at 6 a.m.

Deputies swarmed the small area with two dozen cars, talking to "anything that moved," said Detective Sean Kennedy. Tips led them to Maus, who was arrested hours later. Maus is charged only with the April 2 burglary and car theft and has not been accused by authorities of participating in the attack.

Kennedy said Maus gave up Reyes and Fernandez.

They were arrested Thursday afternoon — for the April 2 crime, Wednesday's attack and two unrelated burglaries.

Authorities aren't saying whether they are searching for another suspect — the victim said three people attacked her — or if more charges are coming.

"It's still under investigation," said Kevin Doll, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.

The attack on a frail elderly woman chilled and outraged the community. Residents talked of moving. One neighbor slept with a hammer by her bed.

But the massive manhunt ended with two boys.

The community is "safe in their beds tonight," Sheriff Bob White said at a hastily called news conference late Thursday.

"There is no shelter for these types of criminals in Pasco County," he said. "We will hunt you down."

White said he felt sick about what happened to the woman and about the age of the alleged attackers.

"I'm not sure it's sunk in what they've done," he said, adding that he believes "they think they are still going home to mama."

Reyes and Fernandez face charges of burglary to a residence, grand theft auto, attempted first-degree murder and sexual battery. White has recommended they be charged as adults, though the final decision lies with prosecutors.

Kennedy said Reyes and Fernandez confessed. All of the boys live within a 2 miles of the woman.

Maus' family couldn't be reached. Fernandez's mother said she didn't want to talk about what happened. Reyes' mother said her son is a good boy who would never hurt anyone. "He was fine until he met Carlos," she said.

The crimes have this in common with much youth violence: The perpetrators did not act alone.

"Young people, like adults, will take more risks, do things that are less appropriate and increasingly dangerous in a group," said Dewey Cornell, a University of Virginia professor who directs the Virginia Youth Violence Project.

Violent acts like rape and murder also tend to follow one or more less serious crimes, he said.

"There is a desensitization and escalation that comes with committing a series of crimes," Cornell said. "They sort of test the limits over time and take a step further toward greater and greater criminal behavior."

Jessenia Rodriguez, 17, said she is Fernandez's girlfriend and that he often stayed with her in her Beacon Woods home. She refuses to believe that Fernandez or Reyes attacked and raped the woman.

But Rodriguez said that Fernandez was gone from her home during the time the attack happened. She said he left, saying he had something to do, and then came back later, gave her a kiss and said he had missed her.

The victim still has two black eyes, according to Bay News 9.

"I just want to be happy," the woman told reporters as she closed her pink door and walked outside, carrying some belongings, "and move on with my life.

"What life I have left."

Times researcher Will Gorham and staff writer Molly Moorhead contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com.

A trusted teenager is accused of setting up rape and beating of 89-year-old 04/10/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 11, 2009 11:05am]
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