SALT LAKE CITY — A rural Utah girl described in harrowing detail Thursday about how she was raped by three men in the bedroom of a house after an Easter-egg hunt while her mother was in a nearby garage smoking methamphetamine.
Now 11 years old, the girl testified via video link at the start of the rape trial of the three men charged in the March 2016 attack. They deny assaulting her.
The girl, in braids and blue jeans, testified the men threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about the attack in rural Uintah County, which borders Colorado. The Associated Press does not identity victims of alleged sexual assaults.
When her mother returned, the then 9-year-old child was upset and her Easter dress disheveled. She said she wanted to go home and eventually told her mother what had happened two days later, authorities said.
Defense attorneys argue there's no DNA or other physical evidence against the men charged with child rape and sodomy: Larson RonDeau, 38, Randall Flatlip, 28, and Jerry Flatlip, 31.
"These young men are all innocent as they sit here today," defense attorney Loni DeLand said.
He argued the girl's mother influenced her account by suggesting what had happened, and a child-welfare worker mishandled an interview with the child.
In a video of that 2016 child welfare interview, the girl talked happily about the chocolate ice cream and cake she had at her last birthday before she described the pink, white and black blanket in the room where the alleged assault took place.
During her testimony Thursday, the girl answered a number of questions from defense attorneys, including queries about whether she was upset when her mother found her because she had a nightmare.
The girl's mother pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor child abuse charge for leaving the girl behind to use drugs with a friend she'd met during a prior stay in jail; the friend had been sharing the home with the three defendants.
She was sentenced to jail and drug treatment after the guilty plea. The Associated Press is not naming the mother to protect the identity of her child.
The girl was placed in state custody and is now in the care of her Native American tribe, authorities have said.
Several jurors on the panel of five women and five men appeared upset and took notes as the girl calmly testified. One defendant, Jerry Flatlip, shook his head from time to time during the testimony.
The case has taken several twists on the way to trial. Charges were initially filed against four men, but one defendant was dropped after the child's mother couldn't be found to testify at a 2016 evidence hearing.
A mistrial was declared last year when not enough jurors could be found because too few people reported for jury duty.