August trials expected in alleged UMass gang rape case

Saturday, February 15, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Trials for four men accused of raping a UMass student in October 2012 are now expected to be held in August.

Meanwhile, the attorney for one of the accused is seeking dismissal because he was 17 at the time of the alleged attack.

Emmanuel Bile, Justin King, Adam Liccardi and Caleb Womack each have pleaded not guilty to three counts of aggravated rape. Liccardi faces a fourth count for allegedly continuing the assault after the other three left the victim’s room.

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Womack was 17 at the time; the other three defendants were 18.

Womack’s attorney, Jonah Goldsmith of the Committee for Public Counsel Services filed a motion to have the case against his client dismissed, citing the signing of the so-called “Raise the Age” bill by Gov. Deval Patrick in September 2013. While 17-year-olds accused of crimes previously were tried in adult court, the change in law means they are now tried in juvenile court.

Goldsmith said the question of whether that change in the law can be applied retroactively is now being taken up by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. Judge Mary-Lou Rup took no action on the motion, pending the SJC decision.

After the hearing, Goldsmith said if the case against Womack is dropped in adult court, he would likely be re-indicted and tried in juvenile court.

Being tried in juvenile court may allow more latitude in sentencing and could mean a conviction would not require being a registered sex offender, Goldsmith said.

Also at Wednesday’s hearing, Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jennifer Suhl said results of DNA testing in the case are expected in April.

Suhl told Rup that she will be taking a three-month maternity leave about that same time and will be unavailable until she returns to work.

Considering all of that, Rup scheduled a hearing in April to check the progress of the test results and moved the case over to the August trial list.

The issue of whether the state intends to try each defendant separately or to join one or more of the cases together will also likely be taken up at the April hearing.

It is Gazette policy not to name the victims or alleged victims of sexual assaults.

The four men are accused of arriving at the UMass Amherst campus uninvited by the victim, gained access to her dormitory while she was away from the building and waited for her to arrive.

When she came back, according to court records, she agreed to socialize and drank vodka with the defendants.

According to Suhl, at some point one of the suspects shut off the lights in the room and the four men attacked her, forcibly removed her clothing and continually raped her.

Suhl said after the other three left the victim’s room, Liccardi allegedly stayed behind and raped her again, leading to the fourth charge.

Each of the men faces a penalty of up to life in prison if convicted.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.