BY JIM WALSH
Moments after securing a path to freedom, at least temporarily, for a 17-year-old defendant accused of committing sex crimes in the Hamilton High School locker room, defense attorney Ken Countryman fired an early salvo in the blame game bound to ensue from the unseemly hazing scandal.
Defending client Nathaniel William Thomas as a “great kid” who is innocent of sexual assault and child molestation charges, Countryman sought to pin blame on the Hamilton coaches who he said failed to supervise and control the locker room properly.
“This case is about a severe lack of supervision by the coaches,” Countryman said. “We’re not disputing there were activities that happened in the locker room. But activities of this nature in the locker room committed by Mr. Thomas, absolutely not.”
“There was clearly a Lord of the Flies mentality going on in the locker room,” Countryman said, referring to the 1954 novel by Nobel Prize-winning author William Golding. It describes the failure of a group of British boys, stranded on a Pacific island after a catastrophic plane crash, to govern themselves with no adult survivors.
Despite having good educations, the boys regress into primal behavior, including murder, before they are rescued.
Countryman never named Hamilton football coach Steve Belles, who was acclaimed for his success on-field “We have adults, coaches, who let senior members of the football team enforce rules,” Countryman said. “We have a lot of contradictory evidence and nothing to support.”
Belles has been placed on indefinite leave by the Chandler Unified School District and is not allowed on the school’s campus. He has not commented since then.
Before he lambasted the Hamilton coaches, Countryman won a major victory for Thomas when he persuaded Maricopa County Superior Court Commissioner Kevin Wein to impose a $25,000 bail, with electronic “This case is about a severe lack of supervision by the coaches. ” – Defense Attorney Ken Countryman
before Thomas, a football player with a B- average, and the others were arrested on March 30. Countryman referred to Belles as a good coach, but he also criticized him.
“He’s the head coach. He clearly is someone who did not supervise his locker room properly,” Countryman said.
Earlier, during his arguments at the hearing, Countryman argued repeatedly and adamantly that Thomas did not commit the sex crimes alleged in a criminal complaint, and he also sought to focus blame on the previously esteemed Hamilton coaches.
monitoring and other restrictions. Thomas was released from custody April 6th.
“The weight of the evidence provided so far is paltry at best,” Countryman said.
He said there was no DNA evidence, and he alluded briefly to the existence of a video, but he said Thomas is not implicated in any sex crimes by the video.
Prosecutor Frankie Grimsman had requested a $150,000 bail, along with at least 30 days in jail, to give Chandler police adequate time to investigate whether Thomas or the three unnamed juveniles also in custody should face additional charges.
“It’s not to investigate these crimes,” Grimsman said about the month-long delay she sought in Thomas’ release. “It’s to investigate additional crimes, bad behavior by this defendant.”
But Wein set the bond only after Grimsman chose not to pursue a Simpson hearing, in which she would have certainly revealed more details about the unsavory case, in an attempt to prove “proof evident and presumption great” that the crimes were committed – the legal justification for jailing a sex crime defendant without bond.
Previously, at Thomas’ early morning initial court appearance, another court commissioner had found that statements from victims about Thomas being responsible for the assault were ample justification to hold Thomas without bond. The decision landed Thomas in custody for about a week.
Heavily redacted records released earlier in the week portrayed the locker room as a house of horrors, saying that between fall 2015 and January 2017, “multiple assaults were committed against at least four separate juvenile victims under the age of 15 years old while at Hamilton High School.”
The report describes an incident that resulted in an aggravated assault charge, in which Thomas is accused of grabbing and holding a victim “while simulating sexual intercourse in the Hamilton locker room.”
The court document also describes a sexual assault in which a 14-year-old boy was held down in the Hamilton locker room and sexually violated in a certain manner.
The complaint also describes another incident where a 14-year-old boy was held down in the locker room, his pants were removed, sexual intercourse was simulated and the defendant “touched his bare buttocks.”
Countryman commented on the charge after winning the relatively low bail, saying, “he did not violate anybody’s rectum.”
But Grimsman also elaborated on brief comments in the court records that said the victims were threatened with physical injuries if they contacted police and revealed what happened. She said many of these threats occurred on social media, and she asked Wein to bar Thomas from using social media as a condition of his release.
Although Wein refused to grant the month-long delay in Thomas’ release, he did bar Thomas from social media as a condition of release. He also emphasized the importance in this case of a standard term of release which bars defendants from having contact with victims or witnesses.
“Contact means everything. If that happens, release conditions will be re-examined and my guess is that he will end up in jail,” Wein said.
A week in which many details about the case emerged ended with a strong show of support for Thomas by his friends and family, on the eve of his release, with many teens standing in Wein’s courtroom to vouch for him.
Outside the courthouse, they gave Countryman a round of applause, but Thomas’s victory comes at only the beginning of a high-stakes legal battle that promises a long journey through the court system.
At least three of the charges alleged in the complaint are dangerous crimes against children that could result in a decades-long sentence if Thomas is convicted.