LIBERTY, Texas (AP) — One of the men accused in a series of repeated sexual assaults of a young Texas girl disappeared from his trial Wednesday, following a day of emotional testimony from the now 13-year-old girl who cried as a video of one of the encounters was played for jurors.
Testimony continued despite the absence of 20-year-old defendant Eric McGowen, who is one of 14 adults accused of having sex with the girl during a nearly three-month span two years ago. Six juveniles were also charged.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys huddled briefly with Judge Mark Morefield in front of his bench when McGowen failed to return to the courtroom following an afternoon break. The judge then told jurors the trial would go on without him.
Morefield later said a bench warrant had been issued, and McGowen's bond was increased from $35,000 to $250,000. The judge denied a defense motion for a continuance in the case and said the trial would resume Thursday morning.
"Your client left voluntarily," Morefield told defense attorney Matthew Poston.
Poston and prosecutors did not comment outside the courtroom because of a gag order in the case.
McGowen is charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child and faces up to life in prison if convicted.
The girl, testifying under a pseudonym, told jurors about two incidents, one in October 2010 and one the next month, in which McGowen and several other men and boys took turns having sex with her while recording the encounters on video.
The girl briefly broke down in tears as jurors were shown a few minutes of video of an alleged October 2010 sexual assault in a house in Cleveland, a small southeast Texas town where she and the defendants lived.
The girl, who was 11 at the time, said she was brought into what she described as the "baby room" in the house, and that McGowen and others took turns having sex with her. She said the video, which several jurors turned away from, was of her being assaulted by another man charged in the case.
"Did the guys just take turns with you?" prosecutor Joe Warren asked.
"Yes sir," the girl said.
The girl seemed calm for most of the roughly 1½ hours she testified. She mostly gave short answers to questions, often pausing to stare at the floor or ceiling of the Liberty courtroom before responding.
She described another alleged rape that November that started in a different Cleveland home and continued later at a nearby abandoned trailer.
Asked by Warren if more than 20 males might have assaulted her that day, the girl responded, "Probably."
She also told jurors that McGowen used a beer bottle on her during that incident.
Jurors were later shown police photos of used condoms and condom wrappers found inside and outside the house in the November incident.
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