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The youngest juvenile suspect in the alleged gang rape of a 14-year-old girl last fall by as many as nine men and boys in St. Paul has pleaded guilty in juvenile court and is expected to testify against the others, including his 17-year-old brother.
The guilty plea was filed last month but was revealed in court last week, where the Ramsey County prosecutors were arguing to have the older brother, Jim Her, tried as an adult.
A judge is expected to rule on that request next month.
The brothers are among nine suspects accused in a Nov. 17 gang rape allegedly perpetrated by members and associates of the True Blood 22 (TB22) street gang.
Authorities say the girl was attacked last year at an abandoned house on White Bear Avenue after being plied with alcohol. The younger Her brother is prepared to testify that each of the suspects planned to rape the girl, but that someone yelled a warning that police were coming, and everyone scattered. He is not being named because he was 15 at the time of the alleged incident and was charged as a juvenile.
Jim Her, who is suspected of having been a TB22 member for four to five years, is accused of being among those who surrounded the girl in a tiny, trash-filled room as his brother helped hold her down.
The brothers' cases are the first to be heard in an attack that has prompted one community leader, Bao Vang of the Hmong American Partnership, to call for maximum penalties for all involved.
The victim, who has left her East Side school, is scarred physically and emotionally, witnesses reported during court testimony last week. In addition, they said, she and her family continue to fear for their safety and worry that gang members may come after them.
"Her overall appearance alarmed me," said Sgt. Kevin Navara of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, who has been assigned to help ensure the safety of the victim and her family. "I noticed she had numerous cuts in her wrist area."
She has cut herself when she's upset, Navara said.
For Jim Her, the question now is whether, if convicted, he will have the chance to return to society before he turns 21 -- as his younger brother has an opportunity to do. The county's probation department has recommended that each of the four juveniles charged in the case stay in the juvenile-justice system.
Some say Jim Her has the potential to be rehabilitated.
At the court hearing last week, public defender Diane Dodd called witnesses who testified to Jim Her's success in school and who spoke of the potential benefits of having him placed in a juvenile facility and then on probation until age 21 -- if convicted. Hanging over him, if he were to fail, would be an adult prison sentence. Jim Her says he wants to get out of the TB22 gang, Dodd and others said.
Prosecutor Heidi Westby worked to portray Her as a danger to the community. During her questioning, she hammered away at the possibility of Her returning home and associating again with gang members known for auto thefts, burglaries and drive-by shootings.
His father, Thai Her, 45, testified that his son was a "good individual."
But, at home, Jim Her has been a source of frustration, too.
The elder Her, who has seven children, came to Minnesota in 2004. He has worked for 3M in Eagan since 2006, he testified last week. His oldest daughter studied to be a nursing assistant, he said, while another daughter earned a degree to teach in South Dakota. Jim Her is "very close" to his brothers and sisters, Thai Her said.
Last September, however, Jim Her stopped going to school. He also defied his father by disappearing on weekends. Under questioning from Westby, the elder Her said he hadn't noticed much of the alleged gang-colored clothing in a bedroom that his two sons shared. But he did say he told Jim Her not to get any gang tattoos.
Did he listen? she asked.
"He doesn't listen to me," Thai Her replied through an interpreter. "He's all marked."
Jim Her has a tattoo on his left tricep with the letters, "TB," a St. Paul police gang investigator said last week. He also testified that two "step brothers" staying in another bedroom in the Her family home had been identified by TB22 leader Thai Yang as gang members, too.
The younger Her brother was not a gang member, but a follower, according to all accounts. Thai Her, when asked last week if he recalled his son saying at last month's plea hearing that everyone intended to rape the 14-year-old girl, replied: "I heard that, but [he] is a kid who doesn't have good hearing."
School to home
After the alleged gang rape, Jim Her began attending school at City Academy on the city's East Side. There, he was a model student and a leader of the charter school's robotics team, said Nick Rice, a science teacher and student adviser. A letter provided to the court also noted that Jim Her had ignored efforts by some of his peers to skip school.
Another witness suggested it also was possible that Jim Her had decided to be on his best behavior because he knew he was being investigated as part of the gang rape case.
District Judge Robert Awsumb must sort through the conflicting accounts describing Jim Her and must decide whether to try Her in adult court with its potentially more stringent sanctions. Until that ruling, Jim Her must remain in custody in the juvenile detention center because he has shown an inability to follow rules at home, the judge said.
Anthony Lonetree • 612-875-0041
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