WEST PALM BEACH — A man accused in the brutal gang rape and beating of a mother and her young son sexually assaulted the woman but did not participate in more than a dozen other horrific acts prosecutors allege, his attorney told jurors Monday.
The victims of the 2007 attack at their public housing complex just a few miles from downtown West Palm Beach say up to 10 masked teens raped the woman repeatedly and forced her and the boy to have sex with each other, then doused them with chemicals to clean the crime scene.
The trial for Tommy Lee Poindexter, 20, started Monday. He is charged with 14 counts, including sexual battery, burglary, kidnapping, grand theft and promoting sexual performance of a child. He is being tried with Nathan Walker, now 18, but each has a separate jury.
A third teen charged in the case is set for trial in September, while a fourth has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify. They are being tried as adults even though they were all teenagers at the time.
Police are still looking for other suspects who may have drifted in and out of the apartment to participate in the attack.
Poindexter’s attorney, public defender Carey Haughwout, acknowledged that her client raped the woman and DNA evidence will link him to that crime.
But she said there is no proof that Poindexter was present during the other parts of the attack.
“You can’t allow the horrific nature of the events ... to overcome your sworn duty to determine whether Tommy Poindexter is guilty of these crimes,” Haughwout said.
Prosecutor Craig Williams described for jurors the terrifying evening of June 18. He said the suspects lured the woman, then 35, out of her house by claiming her truck had a flat tire. Three masked men with guns then accosted her and her 12-year-old son at gunpoint and forced them back into the apartment.
Williams said the suspects ripped the woman’s clothes off and raped her repeatedly, at one point bringing her son over to watch.
The two were forced into a bathtub together, both stripped naked, as the suspects forced them to perform sex acts on each other, he said. They later allegedly doused the two with household cleaners. The victims huddled together in the tub for several hours, too scared to move.
Then, in pain and bleeding, they walked a mile to the hospital, Williams said.
Authorities say they still don’t know why the woman and her son were targeted. The woman fled Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with her son years earlier in search of a better life. With no money, they landed in the Dunbar Village housing project, where they almost instantly became targets for crime, standing out as Haitians among the mostly American-born black residents. Her car and the boy’s bicycle were stolen. Their house was ransacked.
Walker’s attorney, Robert Gershman, also acknowledged his client was present during the attack, but said he did not participate in all of the alleged crimes.
“It is not clear, it is not given, it is not just because of the horrific nature of the events that Nathan Walker is responsible,” Gershman told jurors. “There is doubt ... No matter the emotion, no matter the facts.”
Authorities say fingerprints and DNA evidence found on clothing and condoms inside the apartment identified the defendants. Each faces a maximum 11 life sentences plus 50 years if convicted.