Henry Sanchez (Montgomery County Police Department)
ROCKVILLE, Md. - Prosecutors have dropped rape charges filed against two Rockville High School students accused of raping a fellow 14-year-old student in a school bathroom.
The Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office came to the decision to drop the charges against Jose Montano, 17, and Henry Sanchez-Milian, 18, after reviewing security video from the school, talking to witnesses and text messages exchanged between the girl and the defendants.
“We have concluded that the facts in this case do not support the original charges filed in this matter,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy.
According to Montano's defense attorney, the security video shows the 14-year-old girl willingly walking into the school bathroom while making out with Montano on the day the alleged rape took place.
"This case blew up because they immediately assumed they were immigrants, and as a result, they immediately assumed they were rapists," said defense attorney Maria Mena.
"After a complete and thorough assessment of the facts, our duty is to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to support criminal violations and violations of Maryland law, regardless of public opinion or political pressure," McCarthy said.
Both Montano and Sanchez-Milian had been charged with first-degree rape and first-degree sexual offenses charges. Instead, the state said it will now pursue child pornography charges against Montano in juvenile court, and also against Sanchez-Milian, because of explicit text photos and video messages between the alleged victim and the teenage boys.
Attorneys for Montano were outraged at the possibility of new charges, and say child pornography laws were not created for these circumstances.
“She was the one that took footage of herself – video and pictures, nude pictures and also video – and she sent these to Mr. Montano, not the other way around,” said Mena.
A judge initially ordered Montano to be released immediately, but because of the new child pornography charges against him, he is being detained until his next hearing on Monday. Sanchez-Milian's next court hearing is scheduled next Friday.
There are question whether the teenagers will be deported. According to David Wooten, another attorney for Montano, the 17-year-old is currently in deportation proceedings.
In a statement, Montgomery County Public School Superintendent Jack Smith said charges against both Montano and Sanchez-Milian, have been dropped. Smith's statement also said the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office announced Sanchez-Milian will be charged with one count of possession of child pornography and that Montano will be referred to the juvenile court system. According to Smith, “No other charges are being pursued.”
“I think what we have to do, especially when we are working with other people's children, whether it is at the federal level, the state level or local level, that we always have to resist in our lives jumping to conclusions and filling in gaps where we don't know the whole story,” said Smith. “And that is more true for me than it is for anyone else, but it is true for everyone, so I would hope that everyone uses a little more restraint across our society in many, many areas.”
Since this alleged incident at Rockville High School, Smith has launched a county-wide review of safety and protocol procedures.
“We have completed six high schools and we are using internal and external people both to do those reviews with the principals and the staff at those schools, and we will continue those. We will complete all 25 by the end of May, so all the high schools will be done. We are looking at facilities, operations, protocols, how we use our resource officers and our security teams there as well as all of our staff. We will be reporting back to the community.”
Could the two teenagers return to school in the future? Dr. Smith said they will be provided an appropriate education, but it will not be in a regular school building.
Montano was arrested on March 16. He and Sanchez-Milian, were accused of raping a 14-year-old girl inside a bathroom at Rockville High. Montano and Sanchez-Milian were charged as adults in the case. They have been held without bond since their arrests.
Montano's attorney told FOX 5 last month that sex between his client and the 14-year-old girl was consensual. In court, he told a judge the alleged victim exchanged sexually explicit text messages with Montano before the incident agreeing to have sex with him. At that time, a judge explained that even if the girl had previously agreed to have sex with him, it doesn't mean she couldn't have changed her mind, and there is no evidence to show that she agreed to have sex with both suspects.
At the same March 30 hearing, prosecutors claimed text messages between the two suspects would show a "conspiracy" to rape the girl, and plans to blackmail her into having sex with both of them. They also said photos of both suspects flashing MS-13 gang sign had been found on their phone, but attorneys for both suspects deny gang involvement.
Both Montano and Sanchez-Milian are in the U.S. illegally, authorities have said. Montano's attorney previously told FOX 5 that his client Montano came to the U.S. after his mother and adoptive grandmother passed away, so that he could be closer to relatives.
The story gained national attention, and even the White House commented on the case. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a briefing after the news broke that the accusations were "horrendous, horrible and disgusting."