CLEVELAND, Texas — After just one day of testimony, Liberty County jurors have sentenced Jared Cruse to life in prison for his role in the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl.
It took them just 90 minutes to convict Cruse Wednesday morning, and 10 minutes to decide his sentence.
The victim was raped repeatedly by 20 men and juvenile boys in an abandoned Cleveland house in the fall of 2010.
Prosecutors showed jurors a still frame from the cell phone video that showed Cruse sexually assaulting the 11-year-old girl with a big grin on his face.
"That’s how proud of what he is doing to an 11-year-old girl," said prosecutor Joe Warren. "Look at that face. Look at me. Look at what I’m doing."
Prosecutors say it was one of numerous sexual encounters on at least five different occasions ending in November of 2010, referring to the suspects as a "pack of wild dogs."
"I don’t know exactly. There was like a lot of them," the girl told the first nurse to examine her when she went public with the assaults in December 2010.
"They started calling over homeboys saying ‘come get some’" the victim said.
Defense Attorney Steve Taylor asked the girl, now 13, if she "was a willing participant" to the sexual encounters. The girl, clearly struggling to understand the question, asked the attorney to repeat it. She thought about it for several seconds before answering, "Yes sir."
Prosecutors argue her answer doesn’t matter. She was 11 years old and, under Texas law, can’t legally consent to sex with anyone of any age. They said that Cruse, who has admitted he had sex with the girl and also made her perform sex acts on him, is guilty of rape regardless of what the girl did or did not agree to do.
The tough sentence was likely influenced by Cruse’s criminal history. He’s already serving eight years in prison for armed robbery and for shooting another girl.
"You’re not dealing with a choir boy," the prosecutor said. "You’re talking about a violent individual."
While a dozen of the accused have accepted plea deals, Cruse was the second to take his chances in court. In September Eric McGowen was sentenced by a Liberty County jury to 99 years.
Six more accused rapists are scheduled to stand trial. They may rethink that choice now that their buddies have essentially been sentenced to life.