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Defendant in gang rape enters plea in racially tinged Iron Range case

Andrew Jonathan Williams

One of four former Hibbing Community College football players accused of taking part in a 2006 gang rape of an 18-year-old Iron Range woman pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree criminal sexual conduct in exchange for a probationary sentence and a stay of adjudication.

The stay of adjudication means the conviction is never entered on the offender's record, as long as he complies with court-ordered sanctions. He also will not have to register as a sex offender.

Andrew Jonathan Williams, 23, of Milwaukee entered the guilty plea before Judge Mark Starr in St. Louis County District Court in Hibbing, St. Louis County Attorney Melanie Ford said in a statement.

Williams had been charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct in the October 2006 incident.

Under terms of the plea agreement, Williams will be placed on probation for two years. He will serve 45 days in the St. Louis County Jail. He is ordered to have no contact with the victim, not to possess a firearm, consume alcoholic beverages or take nonprescription drugs. He is subject to random testing and searches by a probation officer.

Williams couldn't be reached and his public defender didn't immediately return a message seeking comment Monday evening.

Ford said that the victim and Hibbing police investigators agreed with the terms. The county attorney said she would have no further comment because the cases against the other three defendants are still pending.

Veteran Duluth defense attorney Richard Holmstrom -- who is not involved in the case -- was asked how unusual it is for a defendant to get a stay of adjudication after pleading guilty to sexual assault.

"It's unusual, but it's getting more and more usual because of the sex offender registration law,'' he said. "It becomes much more understandable why somebody would plead guilty if they don't have to register as a sex offender.''

The three other former Hibbing Community College football players are still facing charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in the case. All have pleaded not guilty. College officials disbanded the football program three months after the charges were brought, citing poor academic performance by many of the players.

The case has been racially charged because the four defendants are black and the victim is white. At a hearing in December of 2008, a public defender argued that Williams couldn't get a fair trial in Hibbing because the community lacked racial diversity. Starr denied the motion.

The victim said the incident started when a black man from Milwaukee whom she had met previously in the college dorms asked her if she wanted to hang out. He took her into a dark room, where he and several other men sexually assaulted her, she said.

A Hibbing police investigator showed the victim a number of photographs of black males who lived in the dorm room where the assault took place. The woman identified Williams and teammate Terrance Dominque Laverity of Miami as taking part in the assault.

A criminal complaint alleges that Talon Deante Jackson of Miami told Williams that he had sex with the woman, but he denied it to Hibbing police. Laverity first denied having sex with the woman, then told an investigator he had consensual sexual intercourse with her, the complaint alleges. The fourth defendant, Daily Whitten, of Darlington, S.C., claimed to have had consensual sex with the woman in another dorm room.