By Aimee Green | The Oregonian | April 27, 2015
A 17-year-old Lake Oswego High School student breathed a sigh of relief Monday when a judge threw out the felony case against him for his sexual encounter with a 13-year-old girl in a Portland International Airport restroom last year.
The teen had faced a possible prison sentence and registering as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
"He has been scared to death frankly by the charges that were initially brought against him," his defense attorney, Stephen Houze, told Judge Cheryl Albrecht.
The teenager instead pleaded guilty to public indecency -- a misdemeanor -- and was sentenced to 1 1/2 years of probation in Multnomah County Circuit Court. He will not have to register as a sex offender and can ask a judge to erase the conviction from his record after three years.
According to authorities, the 17-year-old and the girl had been traveling alone when they ended up sitting next to each other on a Southwest Airlines flight into Portland last Aug. 15.
During the flight, the two engaged in sexual touching under a blanket -- and an adult next to them realized something inappropriate was going on and told the pair to knock it off, investigators said.
Once off the airplane, the two walked into a men's restroom together at Portland International Airport to "continue the make-out session," according to a sheriff deputy's report. At one point, the girl said she told the 17-year-old "no" and "grabbed a hold of his hand to stop him, but he begged and persisted," the deputy's report states.
The girl was temporarily attending an academy in Bend. She told school officials what happened, and officials called police.
The 17-year-old was indicted in late December and arrested on Jan. 1. He spent the next 19 days in jail, until Judge Jerome LaBarre lowered his bail from $750,000 to $50,000.
The Oregonian/OregonLive isn't naming the defendant because he was a juvenile at the time of the encounter.
The 17-year-old was charged with felony criminal wrongdoing on two fronts: that he had allegedly coerced the girl into sexual acts and that the more than three-year age difference between the two made the sexual contact illegal.
The girl told police she had told the 17-year-old that she was only 13. But the 17-year-old said the sexual contact was consensual and that the girl had claimed she was 15.
The most serious charge against him -- first-degree sexual abuse -- carried a minimum of more than six years in prison if he had been convicted.
Houze, the defense attorney, reviewed airport surveillance video showing the two walking together -- even smiling -- as they traveled down the concourse and into a men's restroom "right at the busiest TSA checkpoint at the airport," he said.
The two were in the restroom for close to 15 minutes, Houze said, and about 30 men -- including TSA employees -- walked into or out of the restroom during that time. He argued that the girl had plenty of opportunities to seek help if she had been forced into sexual contact with the 17-year-old.
The video shows the 17-year-old leaving the restroom first, then turning and waiting for the girl to follow him.
"This young lady came out and gave him a very friendly wave goodbye -- a very visible wave in front of everybody at the airport," Houze said.
Prosecutor Chris Mascal told the judge that her office has "questioned whether or not" the girl shared her true age with the defendant. Mascal also noted that the 17-year-old underwent a sexual psychological examination that showed he was not a dangerous sexual predator. He also took a polygraph test, which corroborated his version of events.
"He came out brilliantly on both," Mascal said.
"In our reassessment case -- whether he knew or should have known she was under the age of 14 -- we thought these charges were more appropriate," Mascal said, explaining how her office got to the point of pursuing a single count of misdemeanor public indecency.
No charges were filed against the girl, who lives out of state.
During the hearing, the defendant's mother, grandparents and uncle sat in the courtroom's gallery. Because of the charges, the teen had to withdraw from Lake Oswego High and finish his senior year online. He is days away from graduating and has been accepted to attend an out-of-state college this fall, Houze said.
The defendant, who recently turned 18, wore a navy blazer, red tie and khaki slacks. He stood up as he addressed the judge.
"I regret everything that has happened," he said. "I see the effect this has had on my life, my friends and my family. And I would never wish this on anyone."
He said he's spent the past few months focusing on earning straight As in all of his courses.
"I feel that I've learned immensely from everything that has occurred these past few months, and I take it as a learning experience," he said.
Houze said the teen was shunned by many in his community.
"This represents tragic judgment that a young person can make, in this case that two young people can make, that can sometimes have (an) ... effect on the rest of their lives," Houze said.
A psychologist who assessed the teen recommended that he undergo counseling -- not because he was a danger to the community -- but to help him process all that has happened.
"So he can recover from this," Houze said. "He's a good kid. He's going to bounce back."