One of the former La Vernia High School students arrested for sexual assault in 2017 for participating in an alleged hazing ritual is headed to trial in July.
Alejandro Ibarra, now 20, rejected three plea agreements offered by the state Monday in Wilson County District Court, opting instead to put his fate in the hands of a jury.
Ibarra was indicted by a grand jury in June on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity, a second degree felony.
According to the indictment, he held a juvenile under the age of 17 down on three different occasions, attempting to sexually assault them with shampoo bottles and other objects. The sexual assaults were allegedly part of a hazing ritual enacted by La Vernia High School athletes when students were accepted onto varsity teams.
Students who were at least 17 years of age at the time of the reported crimes are being prosecuted as adults under Texas law.
Ibarra’s attorney, Adrian Perez, requested more time for his client to accept a plea, but Assistant Attorney General Sharon Pruitt refused.
“Today’s the day,” Pruitt said, requiring Ibarra to deny the state’s plea offers on the record.
According to Perez, the state originally offered Ibarra three years deferred adjudication probation on the lesser state felony charge of unlawful restraint. When Ibarra said no, the state offered him 30 days in jail on a misdemeanor charge. Ibarra declined that offer, and asked for one year probation. The state countered with an offer of two years probation, which Ibarra also rejected.
“He wasn’t so comfortable going to jail,” Perez said after the hearing. “I can’t say why he rejected (the other offers). Frankly I might not even know (why).”
Pruitt told Perez after the hearing she had strong witnesses to bring to the trial.
Dustin Norman, who was indicted on the same charges as Ibarra in June, accepted the state’s plea bargain agreement Monday. Norman, now 21, pleaded no contest to the lesser charge of unlawful restraint and placed on three years deferred adjudication probation. He is required to pay a $750 fine and complete 200 hours of community service in order to avoid being found guilty. Once he completes his probation he will be eligible to petition the court to have his record expunged.
Norman’s attorney, Alfonso Cabañas, said Norman decided to accept the plea agreement because of the “burden on his family residing in La Vernia.”
“It was a good agreement, considering the seriousness of the allegations,” Cabañas said. “However, if any of these allegations are true, why didn’t any of the coaches or assistant coaches who were tasked with protecting the students get charged criminally?”
A third defendant in the La Vernia case, John Rutkowski, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of hazing Monday. Rutkowski, now 20, was given one year deferred adjudication probation on the condition of paying a $750 fine and completing 100 hours of community service. Judge Donna Rayes granted Rutkowski the option of completing his probation and expunging his record early if he completes those conditions. She also granted his request to travel to and from Bryan, Texas so he can continue his education at Texas A&M University-College Station.
These hearings follow at least seven other accepted plea deals in the case. So far all defendants, including at least four people who were under 17 at the time of their arrest, have avoided being sentenced to jail.
Robert Olivarez Jr., now 20, pleaded no contest to a state felony of unlawful restraint on October 21. According to the stipulation of evidence in his case, Olivarez restrained two juveniles under the age of 17 on two separate occasions. He was placed under deferred adjudication probation for three years and ordered to complete 150 hours of community service and pay court costs and a $500 fine.
Colton Patrick Weidner and Christian Brock Roberts, both now 20, pleaded no contest to the same state felony on November 26. They were indicted in June for engaging in organized criminal activity, a second degree felony. According to the indictment, they attempted to commit sexual assault on juveniles under the age of 17 on six different occasions using a flashlight and their finger. Weidner and Roberts both were given five years deferred adjudication probation and ordered to complete 350 hours of community service and pay court fees and a $1,000 fine.
The Texas Attorney General’s office denied a request for information on the status of the remaining three people arrested in 2013. A spokesperson from the AG’s office said they couldn’t provide more information because the case is ongoing.
Two civil suits have been brought against the school district by parents of victims. The suits have been combined and are scheduled for trial in September 2020.
Updated Dec. 17 with the new trial date of the related La Vernia civil suit.