SAN JOSE -- Three teenage boys have admitted to sexually assaulting 15-year-old Audrie Pott at a drunken house party a week before the Saratoga High teen hanged herself, according to documents and other direct information about the case obtained by this newspaper.
While two of the boys have already finished serving 30 days -- during weekends -- in juvenile hall for their part in the crime, a third boy is currently spending 45 consecutive days in juvenile detention, according to sources close to the case.
The revelations come after months of secrecy over the boys' fates because they were prosecuted in juvenile court, which is not open to the public.
The new information obtained by this newspaper shows the boys admitted to digitally penetrating Audrie on Sept. 2, 2012, while she was passed out drunk and to possessing cellphone photos of her half-naked body. Audrie woke to find her shorts stripped down and arrows and circles and lewd comments scribbled in Sharpie pens over her body. But while an attorney representing Audrie's family said early on that the photos went viral online, the new information reveals that prosecutors did not have enough evidence to prove the boys circulated the photos widely.
The case captured national attention as yet another example of the dire consequences of teenage drinking, risky behavior and a camera in every pocket. The punishments of 30 and 45 days are far lighter than sentences the boys would have received for the same sexual assault crimes in adult court, which carry maximum penalties of 10 years in prison. They also are less harsh than those imposed on two 16-year-olds in Steubenville, Ohio, who received one and two years in juvenile detention, respectively, in a case that was widely compared to the Pott case.
"It's what I call justice by geography. The juvenile court has wide disparities in the amount of penalties it connects to specific behaviors," said Barry Krisberg, a juvenile justice expert and senior fellow at UC Berkeley law school. "On average, Santa Clara (County) has lower sentences than other places. They've embraced the treatment and rehabilitation strategy" -- a mission of California's welfare and institutions code -- "so this doesn't completely surprise me."
Two of the boys, who continue to attend Saratoga High, were 15 at the time of the crime and are now 16. The third boy was 16 and now is 17 and has transferred to Christopher High School in Gilroy.
The new court records also indicate that two of the boys -- months after Audrie killed herself but before they were arrested in April 2013 -- were found with additional photos of naked girls on their phones. Both boys admitted to extra felonies of possessing or controlling sexual photos of girls under 18.
In a statement released last week, the Pott family lawyer, Robert Allard, alluded to those charges, saying, "It has become quite clear to us that the suspects refuse to accept responsibility or show remorse for their actions. The fact that they have not learned their lesson is demonstrated by the fact that two of these young adults, even after Audrie's death, have continued to engage in 'slut shaming' other young women through, for example, the dissemination of nude photographs."
On the advice of Allard, Audrie's parents declined to comment Tuesday because the juvenile court proceeding was confidential.
"As much as we strongly disagree with and are actively attempting to change the lenient privacy laws afforded to juveniles even when they commit as here heinous acts on an unconscious minor," Allard said in a statement Tuesday, "we cannot publicly comment on any aspect of the criminal proceedings involving these young men."
Christopher Arriola, Santa Clara County's supervising deputy district attorney for juvenile justice, said he also is prohibited by law from commenting on the Pott case specifically. However, he did say that his office is working with state lawmakers to follow the lead of other states and change laws to allow more juvenile cases, including sex crimes, to be open to the public. Names would remain confidential.
"Victims of sexual assault are no less impacted because the perpetrator is a juvenile. Their lives are just as devastated," Arriola said. "We would like to see that these kinds of cases are open to the public so there can be an accounting of it. We don't encourage people to violate confidentiality, but we do believe the system would work better if more public access was allowed."
Phone messages and emails sent to the lawyers of the three boys Tuesday afternoon were not returned. In past statements, the boys' attorneys have said the allegations were exaggerated by the media. In a Rolling Stone article last fall, one of the boy's parents called it "a prank by a few kids, and it's blown out of proportion.''
The boys, who are all high school juniors, are still fighting a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the Pott family that claims the boys are responsible for Audrie's suicide. In court documents filed last week, a lawyer for one of the boys said Audrie's divorced parents, not the boys, were at least partially to blame. Audrie split time living with her mother in Los Altos and her father, stepmother and three half-siblings in Saratoga.
On Sept. 2, 2012, Audrie asked her mother to drive her to a friend's house for a sleepover. But the parents of the friend were out of town, and soon a dozen teenagers showed up to party, according to court documents. They drank Vodka-spiked Gatorade. Audrie drank too much and passed out in a bedroom. Days later, she traded messages with one of the boys to try to find out what happened.
"My life is over," Audrie posted in private messages on Facebook in the days before her suicide. "I have a reputation for a night I don't even remember, and the whole school knows."
On Sept. 10, 2012, eight days after the assault, Audrie went into the bathroom of her mother's house after school and hanged herself. Her mother found her barely alive. She died two days later.
The two 16-year-old boys admitted in September to two felonies: digitally penetrating Audrie and possessing or controlling photos of her, sources told the newspaper. One of those boys also admitted to a third felony of possessing photos of another girl. The third teen, 17, admitted in December to the same two felonies plus three more, including possessing images of other girls. Counseling and community service were also ordered for all three boys.
Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409. Follow her at Twitter.com/juliasulek.