Warning: this story contains details of a disturbing sex crime. Do not read on if such details present a problem for you.
"It's such a tragedy. They're such beautiful boys and this will scar them forever."
--resident of Glen Ridge, quoted by Lefkowitz.
The court and the media called her M.G., to protect her identity.
Her intelligence tested on the borderline between normal and mentally retarded. She grew up in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. Though she was transferred from the local high school to one better-equipped to handle her academic limitations, she remained rooted in her home town. She had an exaggerated view of the teen caste system, and a child-like desire to please. Throughout her life, she demonstrated compliance to others; as a child, she was dared into eating dog excrement by two of the boys who will later figure into this story. At a baseball game, she threw an easy pitch to a girl who promised to be her "best friend forever"(Lefkowitz 85). Mrs. G. would later put her daughter on the pill, because her teachers believed she was an easy target for sexual manipulation and rape. Two years before the assault, some boys had convinced her to insert a hot dog into her vagina. When questioned about sexual touching, she did not seem to understand she could refuse, if the person touching was "a friend."
On March 1, 1989, the promise of a date with local jock Paul Archer led her into the basement of the Scherzer family, whose twin sons were football co-captains. A large group of male students were present; many were setting up folding chairs, like they were ready to "watch a movie" (M.G., quoted in Lefkowitz). There, members of the local teenaged athletic elite brutally gang-raped her with a baseball bat and a broomstick while others watched and encouraged them. She also performed sexual acts, including oral sex. The boys told her no one would like her if she didn't do these things, and that they could "get her in trouble."
Three boys left when the sexual activity began. They corroborated M.G.'s initial account of events, though they said they did not see any use of force. M.G. eventually told her swim instructor, as well as a female student at Glen Ridge High. She said the boys "did things I didn't want them to" (quoted in Lefkowitz 193). She later recanted, however, when she discovered others were going to get in trouble. Charles Figueroa, a friend of the boys, also reported to a teacher what he had been told privately-- a version of events much in keeping with M.G.'s original account. Another teacher was informed, second-hand, both of the events and the boys' alleged plan to repeat and videotape the assault. The teacher did not, however, know the identity of the victim. Three weeks passed before he finally brought the events to the attention of others, and the police became involved. By then, a great many people had already heard and repeated the story.
The investigation did not go smoothly. The town has often been portrayed as rallying behind rapists, and some people certainly did. Announcements from a female administrator to "stand behind our boys"(Lefkowitz 232) met with both cheers and catcalls from students. Figueroa was booed by some people in attendance when he crossed the stage at graduation. A female student befriended the victim-- but only so she could record out-of-context conversations where M.G. seemed to incriminate herself. The strategy did not work, and she narrowly escaped serious charges for interfering with a witness. One of the boys present, Richard Corcoran, Jr., was the son of a local police officer. Allegations that this fact hampered the investigation have not been substantiated.
Many people refused to believe the events had happened. One female classmate summed up this opinion by saying, "'You can't picture them doing it.... 'It's not like they have problems getting girls" (Greenburg).
A number of versions emerged and M.G., easily manipulated, introduced inconsistencies into her testimony which did not help the case. The boys claimed she had been a willing participant, though their details do not always make sense. Paul Archer (present at the events, though not charged with any crime) claimed that M.G. said a blow job she had given one of the boys made her horny, and that she put the baseball bat into herself and manipulated it while holding the object from the other end. This ranks as perhaps the least believable testimony to emerge.
In the end, three boys were charged: Christoper Archer and Kevin and Kyle Scherzer.
The trial followed the uncertain path started by the investigation. M.G.'s mental limitations made her a problematic witness. The time between the event and the investigation meant physical evidence was limited, and the boys had a good deal of time to corroborate alternate versions of events (evidence that they did so was introduced in the testimony of boys not charged). In the end, all three were convicted. Christopher Archer and Kevin received sentences of 15 years; Kyle received 7 years. In all cases, the minimum sentence each would have to serve was left "indeterminate."
In an odd ruling, some of the convictions were later reversed, but a different charge of aggravated sexual assault was upheld, and the decision affected the sentence of only one of the convicted. The sex offenders remained free on bail while the appeal was being heard; they only began serving their prison sentences in 1997, nearly a decade after the crime had been committed. Those sceptical of the role race and class play in American crime and our reaction to it should compare the white, upper class Glen Ridge boys' story to that of the poorer, black accused in the Central Park Jogger case, which occured the same year (I grant, race and class are not the only differences between the two crimes).
The story has been retold by Bernard Lefkowitz in Our Guys: The Glen Ridge Rape and the Secret Life of the Perfect Suburb., a meticulously detailed book, well worth reading despite some problematic comments on the town and school itself. The author portrays Glen Ridge as extreme in its worship of athletic privilege, and also typical of small town America. People who grew up in the Ridge claim Lefkowitz exaggerates the school's lifestyle and the degree of jock-worship. Still, much about the rapists will be chillingly familiar; we all know or knew boys somewhat like the people portrayed. We also see how the rapists escaped consequences for earlier acts to an alarming degree. I recommend Our Guys to anyone interested in the case, which also has inspired a TV movie, an episode of Law & Order, and a teen novel. Erika Tamar's Fair Game, a fictitious account, while explicit and somewhat sympathetic, ultimately whitewashes the original crime.
M.G. continues to live and work in Glen Ridge.
Guy Ferland, Dir. Our Guys: Outrage at Glen Ridge. 1999.
Malcolm Gladwell and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger. "3 men convicted of raping mentally retarded woman." Washington Post Wednesday, March 17, 1993. A1.
Keith Greenburg. "Assault shakes affluent N.J. town." USA Today Friday May 26, 1989. 3A.
Jan Hoffman. "Convictions reversed in assault on retarded woman." The New York Times Wednesday May 21, 1997.
Jonathan Karl. "New Jersey Trio Who Assaulted Retarded Girl Imprisoned." U.S. New June 30, 1997. CNN Interactive. http://www.cnn.com/US/9706/30/glen.ridge.pm/
Bernard Lefkowitz. Our Guys: The Glen Ridge Rape and the Secret Life of the Perfect Suburb. Berkeley: University of California P, 1997.
Tracy Curry Walker. "The Glen Ridge Rape Story." Movies Based on True Stories. http://www.geocities.com/movies_based_on_true_stories/glen_ridege_rape_story.html