Pre-trial wrangling in sexual-assault case

Legal maneuvers in the case against the young men who allegedly assaulted a 16-year-old Pleasant Valley High School girl at a party Oct. 5 could mean that at least two of the juveniles charged in the case may be tried as adults.

The possible change could mean that the victim, who will no doubt be called upon to testify against the minors, may have to do so before a jury in a public environment, as opposed to going before a judge in a sealed courtroom.

The three 17-year-olds arrested in the case are being held in Juvenile Hall. Each was originally to be charged with one count of felony penetration of an intoxicated subject with a foreign object, but evidence against one of the minors is now apparently insufficient to press that charge. That defendant is now charged with the lesser crime of oral copulation with an intoxicated subject.

The other two 17-year-olds have been asked to admit their guilt in Juvenile Court or face trial as adults. According to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, the request is based on a judge’s recent decision to allow for the possibility of deferred entry—a form of juvenile probation—for the two defendants.

“We are trying to get away from deferred entry,” Ramsey said. “They are eligible, but it is our belief that they are not suitable. The difference is whether or not they face [detention by the] California Youth Authority.”

Ramsey said the decision was ultimately up to the judge, but that his office was attempting to “assure that they at least face CYA.”

Originally, six suspects were arrested in the case, including the aforementioned minors, whose names are being withheld due to their age. The arrests stem from an incident in which a 16-year-old girl was allegedly sexually assaulted on a pool table at an unsupervised party in front of a crowd of drunken adolescent boys.

Twenty-year-old Dereck Rickmers, the oldest defendant in the case, is being held in Butte County Jail on three felony charges of sexual penetration of an intoxicated subject with a foreign object. He has pleaded innocent.

Two 18-year-olds who were not implicated in the alleged attack but are thought to have shared consensual oral sex with the 16-year-old prior to that assault are not being charged with statutory rape because of a lack of evidence. One or both may be called to testify.

Ramsey admitted the case has been difficult to prosecute because all those involved were drinking heavily at the time of the incident and were not interviewed by investigators until about three weeks after the party. There no physical evidence in the case and the memory of the victim is “spotty,” Ramsey said.

However, there is enough consistency in witness reports to establish a basic picture of what happened, Ramsey said. Responding to recent allegations by defense attorneys that the victim was not unconscious at the time of her alleged assault, Ramsey said the girl was "so intoxicated she was incapable of resisting," and that the defendants "reasonably should have known that." The defendants’ drunkenness at the time the incident occurred offers no legal excuse for their actions, he added.