TAMPA — Four teenage boys accused of raping a 13-year-old classmate with a broom handle and a hockey stick at Walker Middle School went home after spending a single night in juvenile detention, authorities confirmed.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Sabella released the four to the custody of their parents, requiring electronic monitoring bracelets on their ankles, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and the Department of Juvenile Justice.
"They were arrested on the 6th, and they were released by the judge on the 7th," Juvenile Justice spokesman Frank Penela said. "It didn't have anything to do with us."
Deputies arrested the teens — Lee Louis Myers, 14, Raymond A. Price-Murray, 14, Randall John Moye, 14, and Diemante J. Roberts, 15 — on May 6, eight days after the alleged attack in a school locker room.
The judge could have held the suspects in secure detention for up to 21 days. Two local defense lawyers not involved in the case expressed surprise that he didn't.
"That's unbelievable," said attorney Brian Gonzalez.
Attorney Mark Hershock said he has represented juveniles on lesser crimes, such as breaking and entering into a home or dealing in stolen property, who were held for the full 21 days.
When juveniles are taken into custody, the Juvenile Assessment Center gives them a score that considers their charges, record and level of violence. Both attorneys said rape allegations typically would bring an automatic 21-day stay in secure detention.
"You would think with those type of outstanding allegations, someone would have seen fit to hold them on secure detention," Gonzalez said.
The lawyers said they don't know what evidence or facts were presented to the judge.
The St. Petersburg Times first reported the teens' release Wednesday on the newspaper's Web site, tampabay.com.
Reached by telephone, Judge Sabella said, "I would love the opportunity to explain my decision, but the judicial rules prohibit me from doing that while the case is pending.''
He has been on the bench since 2006, appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. Before he became a judge, he served as deputy chief legal counsel for the Sheriff's Office. He played a key role representing the agency in the Aisenberg civil suit, a high-profile case involving the 1997 disappearance of 5-month-old Sabrina Aisenberg.
The four Walker teens are expected back in court for an arraignment before the same judge later this month, though the filing of adult charges could alter that plan.
The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office intends to charge the teens as adults, Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said Friday.
It's unclear whether the judge knew that when he opted for home detention.
If charged as adults, the four likely would be rearrested and booked into the Orient Road Jail.
Prosecutors have 21 days to file adult charges. That allows time for law enforcement to continue investigating and for the State Attorney's Office to review the case. "It's still an active investigation," said Debbie Carter, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office. "There are other individuals that we've interviewed."
Parents of the four suspects have declined to comment.
Price-Murray's mother, Lenshawn Price, is a Clearwater police officer.
District officials said the boys have not returned to school.
"In cases like this what we do is, we suspend with a plan to move for a change of placement," district spokesman Stephen Hegarty said. "Typically, you can suspend a kid for 10 days while you figure out what to do. We have to look into the facts of the case."
Such students normally have the right to a hearing if the district moves to expel them or move them into an alternative school, he said.
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400.