Irish Times, December 19, 2009
A YEAR after the crime, Séamus T’s voice still quivers when he recalls how he found his daughter Erin, then 15, lying on the roadside [in Gaithersburg, Maryland] on the night of January 3rd, 2009.
“Daddy, Daddy, get them off me,” she kept moaning. The girl was semi-conscious, and was soaking wet because her assailants had put her under a shower to wash vomit and menstrual blood off her after they gang-raped her.
Séamus T, an Irishman who left Dublin 25 years ago, continues his job as an executive in a mechanical contracting firm, but he has spent much of the past year seeking justice for Erin.
The ordeal started as a cosy reunion of three high-school girls after the holidays. Séamus T dropped his daughter off at an apartment in Gaithersburg, Maryland, at 8.30pm, and was to have picked her up three hours later.
Boys showed up at the party. “They gave her ‘jungle juice’, 100 per cent grain alcohol,” Séamus T explains. Doctors at Shady Grove hospital later found Erin had almost three times the legal limit in her blood.
Three teenagers, then aged 16 and 17, planned the rape. One waited in the bathroom while the other two dragged Erin in. When the district attorney read through the medical report at a seven-hour hearing on September 30th, Erin’s family heard how the attackers tore flesh on three of the girl’s body orifices. She banged her head when she fell against the bath tub, and was covered in bruises.
Had the three young men not boasted of their crime, they would not have been identified, because Erin cannot remember the rape. They were arrested in late February, spent a couple of months in jail, and were freed pending the hearing.
Erin was taunted by other students, who accused her of “snitching”‘ on the rapists. The girl was so traumatised that she slept with her mother or older sister until she went to live with relatives in Nevada, at her request.
The case shifted from adult to juvenile court, and Séamus T learned in September that two of the three rapists were back at Magruder High School. He filed a complaint with the board of education, and succeeded in having them transferred.
“My daughter was the only white kid at the party,” Séamus T says.
“I don’t think the attack was racially motivated, but there were racial and class undertones in the courtroom. On one side you had the three rapists, an aunt and two single mothers, all African-Americans. On the other side, everyone was white and middle class.”
Montgomery county circuit court judge Steven Salant so enraged Séamus T that he filed a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities, the body that disciplines judges, on the grounds his daughter “was not treated with dignity and respect” as required by the state constitution.
Salant did not respond to The Irish Times’s request for comment, which was made through the court’s spokesman.
Séamus T says Salant blamed the victim and made excuses for the rapists, who he sentenced to probation only. As recounted by the Gaithersburg Gazette newspaper, the judge described the gang-rape as “horrific”, but focused on Erin’s behaviour on the night of the party.
The victim was drunk and “engaged in risky and provocative behaviour” such as sitting on people’s laps and talking about “hooking up”, Salant said in court. “This was a disaster waiting to happen. . . . There was a dynamic at work here.
“There were things going on here. It doesn’t make the respondents any less worthy of blame, but what it does mean is I have to determine whether what we have here is sexual predators or respondents who . . . did not get that when a girl is intoxicated and presents herself in that manner you do not take advantage.”
“We were devastated as a family. We were destroyed,” says Séamus T.
“We went to court expecting some compassion. The system is upside down and backwards. The judge was worried about the rapists staying in school, getting evaluated, getting counselling and transportation. Everything is lavished on them. Nobody knocked on my door and said, ‘I’ll show you through the system’.”
Séamus T’s appeals to first lady Michelle Obama, Maryland governor Martin O’Malley and state attorney John McCarthy have gone unanswered. He was treated with kindness by the Irish Embassy, which promised to intervene if he felt he was not being treated as a US citizen would be.
The state legislature has provided the most hope of redress.
Kathleen Dumais, a Maryland state delegate, and Nancy King, a Maryland state senator, have taken up the case. Dumais is drafting legislation that would ban juvenile sex offenders from attending normal public schools and place their names on a register. If passed, it may be called Erin’s law.