Boys sentenced in Twin Falls, Idaho, refugee sex abuse case

The family of a girl who was sexually abused last June are still not satisfied with the sentences recently given to the boys who abused her, the family’s attorney said.

Mark Guerry said he’s unable to comment more specifically on the sentences after 5th District Magistrate Thomas Borresen again sealed the case and ordered the attorneys involved “to not discuss anything that was said or done.”

With the proceedings sealed from the public, like most juvenile court records in Idaho, the specifics of the recent sentencing are unavailable.

The case quickly put Twin Falls at the center of a national argument over refugee resettlement. Rumors of the incident grew into a tale of Syrian refugees raping the 5-year-old at knifepoint, then sharing video of the attack with a parent, who celebrated with the boys.

Prosecutors and police said a sexual assault did occur at the Fawnbrook Apartments, but many of the details — the knife, that it was a rape, sharing the video, even the defendants’ ethnicities — were wrong.

Sealed cases are especially common in incidents involving minors who commit sexual assaults, said Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs, who handled the Fawnbrook case.

Some small updates have been released over time, and Loebs’ office announced in April that the boys had reached plea agreements and admitted their guilt.

Loebs Tuesday would not confirm the boys had been sentenced.

“I’m not at liberty to comment on it at all, based on the judge’s very direct and explicit statement that no information about it can be discussed by the parties who were involved,” Loebs said. “That’s really about the only thing I can say.”

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Three boys, ages 14, 10, and 7, were charged in the case. The older boys, brothers, are from Eritrea, an African country, while the younger boy is from Iraq. The boys are from refugee families, but it is unclear how long they had been in the community.

What is known is that one of the boys touched the girl inappropriately inside the apartment complex’s laundry facilities. Another boy recorded the assault on a phone.

One boy pleaded guilty to felony exploitation of a child and misdemeanor battery. A second boy pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting felony lewd conduct and aiding and abetting misdemeanor battery. The third boy pleaded guilty to accessory to the commission of a felony.

When the news around the case became public and rumors started to spread, city officials were soon deluged by complaints and questions from the public. Emails to city officials included demands for answers and threats of violence — even wishing family members of those officials would be raped, according to the Twin Falls Times-News.

Alex Jones, a right-wing conspiracy theorist and radio host, tried to link the Chobani yogurt company — which has a factory in Twin Falls — and its owner Hamdi Ulukaya to the sexual assault case. Chobani later sued Jones for defamation; Jones settled the suit last month and retracted his statements.

The case has received extensive national news coverage, most recently featuring in a report about Twin Falls’ refugee experience in the public policy magazine Governing.

Guerry in April made clear his clients, though they approved the plea agreements, already weren’t satisfied with the boys’ punishments nor with the prosecution’s approach. Tuesday, he said the family of the girl was “especially disappointed with the public conduct of (Loebs), who over the past year advocated in the media on behalf of these three sex offenders repeatedly, rather than focus on zealous representation of the victim as was his obligation.”

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Loebs said he would not begrudge the parents for their thoughts, but believes Guerry was criticizing him directly.

“It’s not the job of a prosecutor to zealously represent the victim. My job is to zealously advocate for the state of Idaho and for whatever process results in the just settlement of the case and the truth coming out. That’s what we did from day 1,” Loebs said.

The two attorneys have feuded before: Guerry challenged Loebs in a contentious election last year that Loebs won. In May, the Idaho State Bar reprimanded Guerry for accusing 5th District Judge Richard Bevan of helping Loebs get out of multiple drunken driving arrests; Loebs has never even been pulled over for suspected drunken driving.

Guerry told the Statesman his claim was “based on information provided to me by a trusted campaign volunteer.” He later found the DUI involved a former deputy prosecutor for the county, not Loebs, and that Bevan had no involvement. “Nonetheless, I accept full responsibility for the inaccuracy of my statements,” he said.