Jury acquits 3 teens of all charges in York Fair rape case

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
West York Police say three male teens lured a 14-year-old girl away from the York Fair and eventually to this yard in the 1500 block of Hope Alley, where they allegedly gang raped her Sept. 16, 2017.

Three young men who had been accused of luring a 14-year-old schoolmate from the York Fair and gang raping her in 2017 broke down and cried as a jury acquitted them of rape and all related charges.

Jurors took four hours to reach a verdict, which happened about 6:40 p.m. Friday, May 10. They found Kelvin Mercedes, Andrew R. Miller and Daishon Richardson not guilty of rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, making terroristic threats, false imprisonment and sexual assault.

"I haven't shed tears at a verdict in a long time," said attorney Chris Ferro, who represented Mercedes. "That (verdict) certainly made me do it."

Ferro and the three former defendants weren't the only ones who were overcome with emotion. Many of the young men's family and friends, who packed the defense side of the courtroom, also cried.

The young woman who maintains she was the victim of a gang rape cried as the verdicts were read. She is now 16 years old.

'Great boys': Attorney Lee Cohen, who represented Richardson, said the jury made the right decision.

"These are great boys, sweet boys," he said.

Attorney Marc Roberts said he would not have taken on Miller as a client if he thought the young man was guilty.

"I believed in his innocence from the beginning," Roberts said.

After the verdicts were read, presiding Common Pleas Judge Harry M. Ness told jurors that this case was one of the more difficult ones he's seen in his legal career.

He then told the three young men, "I wish you luck with the rest of your lives."

Mercedes and Miller are 17; Richardson is 18. All three have maintained that whatever sexual contact occurred was consensual.

Friend takes stand: Jurors heard from one defense witness Friday morning.

Daniella Jones, 16, testified she was friends with the alleged victim in the case and was at the York Fair with her the night of Sept. 16, 2017.

Jones told jurors she saw the girl hanging out with Miller in a group of youths that also included Mercedes and Richardson.

The former alleged victim testified earlier this week that she agreed to leave the fair with her three Central York High School schoolmates because they told her they would show her a dead body in a well.

Jones testified that the alleged victim was hanging out with Miller and the others inside the York Fair.

"She was smiling, talking, laughing — leaning all over him," she told the jury. "She was in their face and asking them what they were trying to get into."

Jones said she saw the girl hug one of the three defendants but can't remember which one. Jones ended up leaving the York Fair without her friend.

"She said she was going to go smoke with them," meaning the defendants, Jones said.

Investigation blasted: During closing arguments, defense attorneys blasted West York Police Detective Michael Mendez Sr.'s investigation and reminded jurors that the alleged victim's version of events has changed repeatedly.

The girl initially told her grandmother and West Manchester Township Police that she was abducted by three white men and gang raped in a maroon SUV.

A few days later, township Detective Robert Davenport told the girl he had found a witness in the area who'd seen the girl hanging out with three young men in the parking lot of an auto parts store near the fairgrounds.

That's when the girl admitted she'd lied about being abducted and said the defendants told her to lie or they would hurt her.

A day or two after that, the case was taken over by West York Police when it was determined that whatever happened had occurred in the borough.

The girl's subsequent statements to police were, in some respects, inconsistent.

She said she was choked and also said she wasn't choked. She said the defendants physically dragged her around the area and also said she walked with them. She said no gun was involved, then said one gun was involved, and also has said more than one gun was involved.

'Farce' investigation: Cohen, in his closing argument, called the investigation a farce.

"Not a single person in the neighborhood was questioned," he told jurors. "Not a single door was knocked on."

Cohen noted that Mendez arrested the three defendants at Central York High School  but never bothered to speak with anyone there about the case.

He also argued that the girl gave too many stories.

"How can any of us know if she's telling the truth?" he asked.

Ferro urged jurors not to allow sympathy for the girl affect their ability to judge the case impartially.

"You know in your heart that this is a verdict of not guilty," he told jurors during his closing argument, adding that her account is "preposterously" untrue.

"They want you to convict these kids ... based upon a whole series of inconsistencies and untruths," Ferro argued.

Senior deputy prosecutor Kara Bowser, in her closing argument, reminded jurors that the girl has always maintained she was raped.

"The commonwealth ... can't fix the investigation Detective Mendez did," she said.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.