Trial begins in case of terrorized Haitian immigrants

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (AP) -- As many as 10 masked teenagers terrorized the then 35-year-old Haitian immigrant and her 12-year-old son in their home...

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (AP) — Unspeakable acts happened to a woman and her young son one balmy June night in the projects. On that, everyone can agree.

As many as 10 masked teenagers terrorized the then 35-year-old Haitian immigrant and her 12-year-old son in their home. It will be up to a jury being selected this week to determine whether the assailants included two suspects whose trial begins Tuesday.

Police say Nathan Walker, now 18, and Tommy Lee Poindexter, now 20, were among the group that sexually assaulted and beat the woman and her son after barging into their apartment in a public housing complex.

Even defense attorneys agree this will be a tough case to win — solid evidence, DNA, fingerprints and a co-defendant set to testify against the others.

Walker and Poindexter have pleaded not guilty to all charges, including sexual battery, kidnapping and burglary. Others are still being sought, and the investigation remains open.

Details of the crime itself are enough to make a jury emotional.

It was June 18, 2007, when police say the teens burst into the woman’s apartment. Nothing but sheer terror can describe what happened next.

For three hours, the victims say, they endured horror as the mother was gang-raped and sodomized and her son beaten in another room.

Then, the mother was forced to perform oral sex on her son at gunpoint.

Afterward, they were doused with household cleansers, perhaps in a haphazard attempt to scrub the crime scene. The solutions burned the boy’s eyes.

The woman would later describe how she and her son sobbed in the bathroom, too shocked to move. Then, in the dark of night, they walked a mile (1.6 kilometers) to the hospital because the attackers stole their phones.

Authorities say DNA evidence found on condoms inside the apartment and fingerprints identified the defendants as the culprits.

Walker and Poindexter will stand trial together, though each will have separate juries.

Two others — now 16-year-old Avion Lawson and now 17-year-old Jakaris Taylor — were set to stand trial in September.

However, Lawson pleaded guilty last week to all 14 charges, including sexual battery, burglary, kidnapping, grand theft and promoting sexual performance of a child.

“He’s very sorry for what he did,” Lawson’s attorney, Bert Winkler, told a judge last week as the guilty plea was entered. “He’s taking responsibility for everything he did and is going to cooperate fully with the state and testify if called.”

Lawson, like the others, faces a maximum 11 life sentences plus 50 years, according to sentencing guidelines. While the judge has broad discretion, he still faces up to 50 years in prison at the least.

Winkler did not return telephone messages or e-mails from The Associated Press. Taylor’s attorney also did not return messages seeking comment. Poindexter’s lawyer and prosecutors declined to talk about the case.

Walker’s attorney, Robert Gershman, acknowledged all the evidence makes the trial tough to win.

“And it will be difficult to seat a jury of fair people in this case because the allegations are such that they’ll hear them, and there is automatically going to be a presumption against my client, no question,” Gershman said.

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