The prosecution of four Damascus High School football players accused as adults of sexually assaulting four teammates with a broomstick begins a critical phase Friday when a Maryland judge is expected to decide if Will Daniel Smith, 15, should be tried in adult court or be moved to juvenile court.
The venues are starkly different.
Adult courts produce a public record of the proceedings, and can yield long prison sentences. Juvenile court is geared toward rehabilitation, with punishments often imposed as probation with no public conviction left on a record.
Smith’s hearing Friday is expected to be followed by similar hearings at later dates for the three others charged as adults with one count of first-degree rape and three counts of attempted first-degree rape in the Oct. 31 incident in a team locker room before practice.
Court records indicate that prosecutors, who have described that attacks among junior-varsity players as “astonishingly cruel,” will argue the teens should remain in the adult system.
In arguing for a move to juvenile court, Smith’s attorney David Felsen filed recent court papers stating his client has intellectual deficits and was following what he thought was an established “prank” within the Damascus football program.
“Will has not yet acquired the capacity to appreciate the adult requirements of his behavior,” Felsen wrote.
Felsen’s argument has the support of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, which was tasked by the court to study Smith’s case and recommended he be moved to juvenile court. The department cited Smith’s age, his amenability to treatment, and the degree of risk he posed to public safety.
Felsen said that soon after the incident, his client was candid with school officials and detectives.
“A person who is compliant with authority and honest in his or her dealings is certainly more amenable to treatment than a person demonstrating other behaviors,” Felsen wrote.
His client was born in Georgia and lives in Clarksburg with his mother, according to court records. He has called Damascus football teammates “my second family,” according to court records.
But detectives and prosecutors have described a vicious attack that Smith and three others unleashed on their teammates.
About 3 p.m., just before the last day of practice, Smith and other teammates were in the sophomore section of the locker room when they decided to go into the freshman part of the locker room and “broom” the younger classmates, according to authorities. As the sophomores came into the freshman area, Smith was holding up the broom and fist-pumping it, prosecutors said.
They alleged that Smith used the broom in the attack of the first victim, which led to the charge of first-degree rape. In Maryland, the count covers a range of nonconsensual acts that can involve the body or use of an object. The charge generally requires an aggravating factor, such as multiple assailants or the use of a weapon.
Smith also is charged with three counts of attempted-first degree rape in the other attacks.
“These crimes were intended to inflict pain, degrade and humiliate the weaker members of the football team,” Montgomery Deputy State’s Attorney Peter Feeney said in court late last year at bond review hearings for the teens.
There are echoes of those remarks from the juvenile agency that studied Smith’s case. A factor that would point to the case staying in adult court, the agency found, was the “nature of the alleged crime.”
The families of at least two of the victims want Smith’s case tried in adult court.
“These were horrific acts perpetrated on these boys,” said Thomas M. DeGonia, a Rockville attorney who represents two of the victims and their family members. “They’re going to have to live with it the rest of their lives. Will Smith and the others should have to live with public records the rest of their lives.”
DeGonia said adult proceedings, importantly, would help provide answers: “Not only the victims, but the public deserves to know how this could have happened inside a public school.”
Prosecutors are investigating whether broom attacks were any kind of long-standing tradition or ritual at Damascus.