DAMASCUS, Md. (ABC7) — If convicted on all five counts, the four Damascus High School junior varsity football players accused of rape may not be eligible for parole until they are 72-years-old.
That incarceration forecast, which is not an absolute, was compiled using data provided by the Maryland Parole Commission (MPC).
Last week, Montgomery County authorities charged "JC" Abedi, "KJ" Lee, Will Smith, and Caleb Thorpe, with one count of first-degree rape, three counts of attempted first-degree rape and one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree rape. Each count carries a maximum sentence of life.
The phrase "life in prison" can be very misleading as it rarely results in criminals dying behind bars. According to the MPC, on average, a person sentenced in Maryland to one life term becomes eligible for parole after 11.5 years of imprisonment.
Using that arithmetic, if Abedi, Lee, Smith and Thorpe are found guilty on all five rape counts, plus given consecutive (not concurrent) life sentences, the teens would not be eligible for parole for 57.5 years. Seeing as the boys are all currently 15, they would qualify come their early 70s.
It is worth noting, parole eligibility does not guarantee release. In fact, most prisoners undergo several hearings before their case is given further review.
Two commissioners are present at each parole hearing, and must be unanimous in their decision. The commissioners come from all walks of life, and in turn, hold varying viewpoints. Considerations include victim impact statements and inmate accolades: education credits, jailhouse jobs and general good behavior.
The MPC then makes a recommendation to the governor, who ultimately has to approve release for anyone serving a life sentence. One caveat, if an inmate has served at least 25 years per life term, the MPC has authority to grant release without obtaining the governor's signature.
Damascus Making National Headlines For The Wrong Reasons:
The shocking allegations of teammate on teammate sodomy have found their way into national headlines. Major print publications including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and USA Today have run detailed stories on the locker room attack. On Wednesday, ABC World News Tonight, CBS This Morning and NBC Nightly News featured reports on their respective coast-to-coast broadcasts. NBC titled its piece, "High School Hazing Horror" while ABC had a banner that read, "Shocking Assault Charges."
The flavor of news publicity is a 180 from earlier this year when Damascus' football program broke a national record for most consecutive high school football wins, 53 to be exact. That streak ended Nov. 16 in a crushing loss to Oakdale High School. Many have speculated that the looming broomstick scandal interfered with players' psyche.
Different Coasts, Similar Sordid Tale:
The Damascus rape case is strikingly similar to a 2012 incident at La Puente High School, located approximately 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
According to multiple online reports, five freshman boys within La Puente's soccer program were lured into a storage room and then jumped by older, stronger players.
"Do you want it the easy way or hard way?" one of the attackers asked the victims. Some of the boys were then sodomized with a pole.
"This had been going on for years at the school," said California-based trial attorney Brian Claypool who later negotiated a settlement with the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District for $4.5 million. "Whenever some of these softer, junior varsity players were trying to make the varsity team, they would get targeted by the varsity players."
Claypool told ABC7 by telephone that he was "absolutely stunned" to see the Damascus case featured on Good Morning America this week.
"It's almost identical to the case I litigated," Claypool remarked. "Anybody with a set of eyes and ears at the school I sued would have known — or should have known — that these boys were being sexually assaulted by other soccer players. It was a tradition."
Multiple people with direct knowledge of Damascus' football program have stated "brooming" was an annual event. Suspect Will Smith, for instance, reportedly told police, “’the broom’ started generations ago.”
During a press conference Monday, Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy acknowledged he too has heard similar claims about a violent, twisted ritual.
"Will we be looking at the potential this has happened in prior years? The answer is absolutely yes," McCarthy stated.
Claypool explained he focused on proving La Puente High School staff and coaches were negligent. The pursuit of the goal involved numerous depositions, plus following a trail of electronic breadcrumbs.
"I hate to say it, but I am pretty sure you are going to find that somebody in the school administration either knew — or should have known — that this hazing activity was taking place," Claypool remarked. "Once they dig deeper into this, once there's a deep investigation into internal emails, any text messages from coaches and players, that's when we'll know more."
So far no civil lawsuits have been filed against Montgomery County Public Schools regarding the Damascus incident. However, a source has confirmed to ABC7 that two of the four victims have retained a prominent local attorney.
"I think the victims in this case may have some civil causes of action against the school system," McCarthy concluded.