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Testimony has resumed without the defendant present in the first trial over the alleged sexual assault of a Texas middle school girl by 20 men and boys over several months two years ago.

Judge Mark Morefield said Thursday that 20-year-old Eric McGowen’s trial will continue even though he hasn’t been seen since disappearing during a lunch break in testimony Wednesday, the trial’s first day.

McGowen is the first of 14 adults to face trial in the case of repeated sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl during three months in 2010.

Six juveniles also are charged in the attacks in Cleveland, a small town about 45 miles northeast of Houston. Prosecutors and defense attorneys huddled briefly with Judge Mark Morefield after McGowen failed to return to the courtroom in nearby Liberty following an afternoon break Wednesday.

Morefield said a bench warrant had been issued and that the trial would go on without McGowen. Bail was increased from $35,000 to $250,000. Defense attorney Matthew Poston and prosecutors did not comment on McGowen’s disappearance because of a gag order. The Liberty County Sheriff’s Office had no update early Thursday on whether the suspect had been found.

McGowen is charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child and faces up to life in prison if convicted. The girl, testifying using a pseudonym, told jurors about two incidents, one in October 2010 and one the following month, in which she said McGowen and several other men and boys took turns sexually assaulting her while recording the encounters on video.

The girl briefly broke down in tears as jurors were shown a few minutes of video of an alleged October 2010 sexual assault in a house in Cleveland where she and the defendants lived. The girl, who was 11 at the time, said she was brought into what she described as the “baby room,” and that McGowen and others took turns sexually assaulting her. She said the video, which several jurors turned away from, was of her being assaulted by another man charged in the case.

“Did the guys just take turns with you?” prosecutor Joe Warren asked. “Yes, sir,” the girl said. The girl seemed calm for most of the roughly 1 1/2 hours she testified. She mostly gave short answers, often pausing to stare at the floor or ceiling of the courtroom before responding.

She described another alleged sexual assault that November that started in a different Cleveland home and continued at a nearby abandoned trailer.

Asked by Warren if more than 20 males might have assaulted her that day, the girl responded, “Probably.” She also told jurors that McGowen assaulted her with a beer bottle during that incident. Jurors were shown police photos of used condoms and condom wrappers found inside and outside the house after the alleged November incident.


Prosecutors say the girl was assaulted on at least five occasions from mid-September through early December of 2010. Eight of the 20 defendants accused in the case have pleaded guilty, including all six juveniles. Authorities began investigating that December, after one of the girl’s friends told a teacher he had seen a cellphone video of her being attacked in an abandoned trailer.

via BMS