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Minnesota Harriet Island rape victims paint grim picture of their lives now

ST. PAUL-It was supposed to be the best time of their lives.The two close friends had just finished their last day of high school; graduation was days away. In the fall, they'd head off to college, where the young women planned to pursue nursing ...

Deandray Easley Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office
Deandray Easley Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office
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ST. PAUL-It was supposed to be the best time of their lives.

The two close friends had just finished their last day of high school; graduation was days away. In the fall, they'd head off to college, where the young women planned to pursue nursing degrees and compete on intercollegiate bowling teams.

Their excitement was fresh when they and two male friends headed to Harriet Island in St. Paul late June 5, 2017, to kick-off the start of summer, the women recounted in Ramsey County District Court Tuesday.

Now excitement feels elusive, they said, a state they sometimes fake so as not to draw attention - like when they walked across a stage to receive high school diplomas four days after being raped and robbed at gunpoint on Harriet Island that June night.

"I just kept thinking ... is this actually happening ... I had no idea how it was going to end," one recalled.

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Names of victims of sexual assault are generally not used.

The 18-year-olds spoke at the sentencing hearing for DeAndray Easley, one of the four males accused of raping and robbing the women that night. The defendants also were accused of robbing the two males who accompanied the women to the park, forcing them to the ground at gunpoint while the women were repeatedly raped in a car nearby.

Easley, 19, is so far the only defendant to take his case to trial. He was convicted of 10 felony counts following a jury trial last October, including aiding and abetting first-degree criminal sexual conduct, first-degree aggravated robbery and kidnapping.

Two other defendants - Devontre Vann, 20, and Vershone Hodges, 20 - both pleaded guilty to a handful of similar counts after reaching plea agreements with the state and were sentenced in January and March respectively.

The final and youngest defendant's case is still pending.

Easley's sentencing was the first time the victims addressed the court about their experience. The courtroom was crowded with their family and friends Tuesday. Easley's relatives also were there.

The young women described going to the hospital after the assault and being unable to see their parents for hours after it happened. They described taking medication for a month to prevent contracting the HIV virus or other sexually-transmitted diseases.

Both now have regular panic attacks and suffer from severe depression.

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One said she has to sleep with the TV on, and insists that someone meets her at the door when she enters a house for fear someone might be waiting inside to hurt her. The other described struggling to control her anger.

Though they tried to go to college in the fall after the attack, flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety caused their grades to suffer, prompting both women to not to return after winter break.

"I feel so hopeless ... like nothing will ever fix me," one of them said through tears Tuesday. "My life is full of panic attacks, pills and therapy."

The other said: "All of these changes were from one night. A night I will never forget ... because it was the most terrible thing I ever had to go through."

Easley sat looking ahead as the woman spoke. His attorney, A.L. Brown, argued for a sentencing departure for his client on his criminal sexual conduct counts because Easley didn't actually rape the young women.

Brown said his client even tried to stop the sexual assaults, at one point taking the gun from one of his accomplices and telling them to "knock it off."

He added that Easley admits to his role in the robberies. The young men stole the group's cell phones and wallets. After the sexual assaults concluded, they told them to stay put because people were hiding in the bushes that would hurt them if they moved.

Brown also told Ramsey County District Judge George Stephenson that Easley had a low IQ and was high on Xanax and alcohol that night.

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"The events that happened on the island were undoubtedly horrific," Brown said, adding that both the victims and Easley were entitled to justice.

"He is not entitled to a sentence that reflects the state's wrath and anger ... or the public's anger," Brown said.

Arguing for the state, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Elizabeth Lamin said she took issue with the assertion that Easley was some kind of hero when it came to the sexual assaults.

Rather, she said Easley was the leader of the group that night, and while he may not have actually raped the victims, he helped facilitate the assaults and did nothing to stop them. Instead, she said Easley cracked jokes and threatened violence.

She added that the jury convicted him on all counts at trial.

"You do not get to point guns at people ... You do not get to terrorize people ... and dehumanize them in every way ... and then say 'my hands are clean,' " Lamin said.

Easley wiped tears from his eyes when it was his turn to speak.

"I just want you to know that I am not the monster they want you to think I am," he told Judge Stephenson. "I didn't want that to happen to them females."

When pushed by Stephenson about why he didn't try harder to stop the assaults - asking Easley what he would have done if it had been his sister, mother or girlfriend - Easley admitted he could have tried harder.

Stephenson ended up sentencing Easley to 30 years in prison on eight of the 10 counts he was convicted of at trial. He was granted slight departures on the two criminal sexual conduct counts since he didn't actually commit the rapes himself, Stephenson said.

The defense has asked for a 20-year sentence. The state sought a roughly 45-year sentence.

The two female victims embraced while they awaited Stephenson's decision. Easley's mother collapsed in grief outside the courtroom after it was handed down.

Related Topics: CRIME
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