Last defendant accused in Trenton gang-rape case gets probation for child endangerment
TRENTON — Thirteen months after the city erupted in outrage over reports that a 7-year-old had been sold for sex and gang-raped at a party in a local high-rise — an allegation that was never proved — the last defendant in the case was sentenced to probation yesterday.
Twenty-year-old Gregory Leary, the oldest of the five males arrested last spring, had pleaded guilty to child endangerment for bringing the girl and her 15-year-old stepsister to the apartment where drugs and sexual activities took place.
Police had charged Leary with sexually assaulting both girls, but prosecutors dropped the charges when they could find no physical evidence to support those claims. Leary, who vehemently denied the charges, spent seven months behind bars before a judge reduced his $500,000 bail.
“I’m just happy it’s over and justice prevailed,” Leary said as he walked out of court yesterday with his girlfriend.
It was a quiet ending to a case that grabbed national attention when headlines screamed news of the “Rowan Towers Rape Case” in late March.
A 7-year-old girl returning home past curfew told her parents she’d been gang-raped by five males — two of them adults — after her 15-year-old stepsister sold her to male partygoers for $7.
Leary, 19-year-old Timear Lewis and three juveniles ages 13, 14 and 17 were arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault. Leary was also charged with statutory rape of the 15-year-old.
Horrified residents and elected officials in Trenton reacted immediately, calling the defendants monsters and animals and demanding swift and powerful justice.
But the case began to unravel under the conflicting statements of suspects and witnesses — many of whom claimed their stories were coerced and coached by overzealous police. The complete lack of DNA or any other physical evidence suggesting rape brought the case crashing down.
Prosecutors began offering the defendants the chance to plead to lesser offenses ranging from child endangerment to trespassing. All eventually received probationary sentences.
Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini declined to comment yesterday.
“There’s nothing to say. Everything about this case has been written,” Bocchini said.
At Leary’s sentencing yesterday, the courtroom was void of spectators, save for Leary’s girlfriend. It was an irony not lost on his defense attorney, Shevelle McPherson.
“This case began with a full house of people throwing rocks and it ends with an empty courtroom and my client walking out,” she said.
She said she’s happy with the outcome.
“I think everything worked out the way it should have,” McPherson said. “Most of the serious offenses were withdrawn. My client accepted responsibility for his actions and was sentenced accordingly.”
Under the terms of his sentence, Leary will be under probation supervision for three years. During that time he must avoid contact with his victims and all unsupervised contact with children under age 16.
At sentencing, Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier asked Leary if he had anything to say.
“I know this has been an ordeal for you,” Billmeier told Leary.
After expressing relief that his ordeal is over, Leary told Billmeier that since being released from jail he has entered counseling and is in school to obtain a license to cut hair. He is also in line for a job as a licensed forklift operator.
Billmeier said he believes Leary will respond well under probation.
“It appears you have been taking positive steps recently,” the judge said.