The boy was wearing his varsity letter jacket when the jury announced its verdict.
“Guilty,” the man said. Guilty? It was Wednesday afternoon. Late September. Back at Saline High School, the football team was getting ready for practice, awaiting his return. He had told them not to worry. He was confident. He would be there.
“How am I gonna graduate?” he remembers thinking.
They took his jacket and wallet.
“What about college?”
They took his keys.
“What about Dad?”
His father stood helpless, a few feet away. All he could say was, “Call me. As soon as you can, call me.”
The courtroom crowd mumbled in disbelief. The boy was put in a cell. They took his tie and shoelaces.
“What about my future?”
A few miles away, the girl was feeling nauseated. She had spoken on the stand, told them what happened that night, the guys, the sex, the crack about
“let’s use a bottle on her,” all of it. Several times the lawyers had to stop because she was crying so hard. At one point she went into a rest room and vomited.
She didn’t stay for the verdict, and neither did her family. But soon enough, they knew the town’s reaction. A car full of students drove past the mother’s store, spotted the girl, and yelled: “You bitch! You whore! We’re gonna get you!”
Five high school boys, one high school girl. And when this story is told, you might not feel sorry for any of them. In the pre-sunrise hours of one cold Saturday morning, they had group sex in the basement of a condo. The boys took turns doing things with the girl. And the girl, depending on whom you believe, either encouraged the whole thing or cried her way through it, frozen with fear.
Two days later, the boys were finishing school, and some were heading home.
“Did you hear?” one said.
“—-‘s going to the police.”
“The police? For what?”
“She’s saying we raped her.”
This is a story of a small town taking sides, as if some invisible line were drawn in the snow. You can stop anywhere today in Saline, by the red brick storefronts, or the Taco Bell, the Ford plant, the apartments in town, the custom homes out on the wide dirt roads, anywhere, doesn’t matter, just ask the question: Whom do you believe? The football player? The girl? Fewer than 7,000 people live in this normally quiet town, and this morning, it might feel like all of them are squeezed inside Washtenaw County’s Circuit Court No. 5, awaiting the word of Judge Melinda Morris.
Today, 18-year-old Bobby Shier Jr., the only one arrested, the only one tried and the only one found guilty that night of first-degree criminal sexual conduct — rape — learns his fate.
It could be a new trial.
It could be 20 years in prison.
He insists he’s innocent. And much of the town agrees with him.
Meanwhile, the girl has switched schools, undergone counseling and, according to her family, is too afraid even to take a shower when she’s alone in the house.
“She struggles with this every day,” said her mother, fighting tears in speaking to the press for the first time. “This has been a year from hell. I know Bobby is in prison. But my daughter’s in a prison, too.”
How did this happen? How can families that used to be friends not have spoken for more than a year? How can kids who used to trust each other now walk through hallways tensing up, glaring, yelling insults, clenching fists. Teenage boys with schoolbooks under their arms say, “She wanted it. She was a slut.” And teenage girls with their hair in ponytails say, “They gang-banged her” — until it sounds like something out of a bad soap opera.
She says they did.
They say they didn’t.
How, in one night, can the world change so fast?
From Bobby Shier’s police interview:
Police: Did you get the impression that she didn’t want to have sex?
Bobby: Sort of, yeah, I did.
Police: What made you think that?
Bobby: Just the way she was acting. . . . If you have sex with them before, you can tell they’re different the next time. . . .
Police: You continued on?
Police: Figuring, well, she’ll be a little more responsive?
Police: But that didn’t happen?
Bobby: No, and I quit then.
A gangly youth
When the jail door opens, and he first steps out, your immediate impression is “teenage.” He is kind of thin for a football player, with a gangly walk, dark hair that falls onto his forehead, a thick neck, crooked teeth, a few pimples. This is not Michael Douglas or some dashing character out of a made-for-TV movie about sexual harassment. Bobby Shier, a solid loaf of a kid, has surrendered his No. 70 Saline football jersey for a green cotton shirt that reads “Washtenaw County Jail.”
On the day they brought him in, Sept. 28, 1994, the first inmate he met was a guy nearly twice his age.
“You’re so young, what are you in here for?”
“Breaking and entering,” Bobby lied.
The next day the guy had a local newspaper.
“What’d you say your name was again?”
“Uh . . . Shier.”
The guy held out the paper with Bobby’s picture on the front page. Jury convicts Saline student of rape. Bobby swallowed. The guy ripped out the story, crumpled it up.
“Flush this down the toilet before anyone sees it.”
It is hard to believe that two days earlier, Bobby had been at football practice at Saline High, going through tackling drills and knocking back blockers from his defensive lineman position. There was a big game that Friday night, the team was undefeated, and Bobby, who actually went to trial in the morning and practice in the afternoon, planned on being there.
The son of a Ford plant material handler, he had no previous record, and although he admits to drinking beer and smoking pot, he maintained a “B” average in school. “I always liked him,” said Saline football coach Jack Crabtree. “You asked him a question, he was honest.”
At one point, Bobby and the victim — whom we will call Linda, which is not her real name — were a couple, at least as much as high schoolers can be a couple. They went to movies, parties, even went skiing once. They had sex numerous times. After a few months, they broke up, he said, because she slept with someone else. No big deal. Bobby admits to having had three sexual partners himself. This might not sound like high school to you. But maybe it has been awhile since you have been in high school.
Linda is a smallish, blond-haired girl, the oldest of five children. Her father drives a truck and her mother owns a shop. Linda has a learning disability and was held back a grade. Because of this, her mother said, she is often compared to her next-younger sister, who is now in the same grade, but is a star student and a star athlete, whereas Linda is not. Linda was always being told, “You’re so pretty, you’re so pretty.” Maybe, after a while, that became her identity.
“I know about her promiscuity,” her mother said.
At Saline High, it seems to be a favorite subject. But understand this is the only high school in town, so stories here are shared like a drinking fountain.
They met in science class, Bobby and Linda. They had sex a few times. That should have been the whole story — if not for that night.
“I wish I had just stayed home,” Bobby said, leaning over the prison table. “People can say anything they want to, they can say you raped them when you didn’t even touch them.
“It’s them against you. It really is.”
Good place for a party
She wasn’t at the condo five minutes before one of them unbuttoned her pants, someone hit the lights, and they all said good-bye to childhood, right there on the beige carpet.
That much they agree on. What happened that night is told at least six different ways by the six people involved. None of it is pleasant. Most of it is shocking. About the only part not in dispute is that Linda, then 17, did go willingly to the home of schoolmate Paul Castellucci at around 4 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 20, 1993. She had snuck out of her house, along with her sister, looking for a party, and now it was late. They never found the party, her sister was sleepy, but Linda still wanted to have fun.
Fun, she will tell you, not trauma.
She considered the five guys “my friends.”
Until that night.
Bobby was one of the guys. He was staying at Castellucci’s house, along with his football teammate Jeff Rathiewicz, then 17, and buddies Todd Mills, then 17, Chris Calhoun, then 16, Ryan Fox, then 18, and Castellucci, then 16. They had been drinking earlier in the evening, and how drunk they were is still in question. They had tickets to the Michigan-Ohio State football game later that day, which is why they were all sleeping over.
Some were half-asleep when Linda called.
“We shoulda just hung up,” Bobby said.
Instead, he, Todd, and Chris got in Todd’s blue minivan and picked up Linda from her girlfriend’s house. She wore a flannel shirt and baggy blue jeans. They offered her a beer on the ride over, and they entered the condo on Woodcreek Court through the back entrance and the sliding glass doors. It was a typical teenager’s lower-level quarters — two bedrooms, a center den area, couch, table, couple of posters on the walls, a TV. Good place for a sleep-over. Good place for a party. Paul’s mother and younger brother were asleep upstairs, which neither surprised nor worried any of the teens. Most, including Linda, had been there many times before.
“Me and her began to wrestle, playing around,” Bobby said. “She was teasing me about football and I was teasing her about soccer, because she played soccer. It was frisky playing, you know? Then I got up off her, and she sat on Jeff’s lap.”
After numerous interviews with the subjects, the rest — which, we should point out, is not for the puritanical — must be told in separate voices, because the versions are different, and the difference is what this whole thing is about.
The boys’ version:
Jeff began to unbutton Linda’s baggy blue jeans. Todd pulled them down from the bottom cuffs. Linda said: “If you keep doing that, they’re going to come off,” but she didn’t seem to mind. Once her pants were off, Todd — who later said, “I couldn’t believe she let us do that” — offered them back to her but she waved them away.
Someone turned off the lights, and Todd, Jeff and Chris helped her down to the floor, out of her clothes, and along with Ryan took places around her. She was now naked and laughing, and feeling around her, saying, “Who’s this? Who’s this?” Bobby, who had gone into Paul’s bedroom, re-entered the room and joined them. Paul stayed in his room.
In the minutes that followed, she performed oral sex on one of the boys, while engaging in intercourse with another. The boys fondled her, moving around to different positions. They maintain she did everything with no coercion, and that she laughed and joked during the process.
Todd: “Her arms were free and her legs were free and if she wanted to get up and walk away at any time, she could have.”
Jeff: “I remember her giggling; she unzipped Chris’ pants. . . . He made a remark about (her skills) and she said, “Oh, yeah, where did you hear that?”
Bobby: “She wasn’t saying no to anybody.”
Eventually — maybe a half hour after this began — Bobby took Linda’s hand and went to a back bedroom, which contained two bunk beds. The two of them had had sex in this bedroom a few weeks earlier. Now, Bobby said, “I asked for oral sex and she said no, she didn’t want to do that. And I was like, well, you wanna have sex then? And she was like, yeah, I don’t care.”
He put on a condom and there, on the bedroom floor, began to have sex with her. He noticed she was not acting “as into it” as he recalled and he asked why. She said she was tired. He continued, maybe for 10 minutes, until several of the other boys banged on the door. He then left the room. He admits she might have been crying at this point.
Ryan entered, with whom she had oral sex.
Todd followed, carrying a bottle the others had given him. They made jokes about “using a bottle on her.” But he told her he would never do something like that. He asked if she wanted her clothes. She did.
She came out, dressed and sat and talked for a minute. She said she had to get home before her mother woke up and realized she was out. Todd drove her home.
Todd: “It was close to 6 a.m. We were laughing and joking the whole way to the van.
“On the way home . . . I remember asking her, ‘Why do you let guys use you like that?’ She was like, ‘Guys don’t use me, I use them to get my pleasure.’
. . .
“A few minutes later, I dropped her off and she ran up to her house.”
That was the last time any of the five boys talked to her.
That is their story.
The girl’s version:
What Linda told the police was significantly different.
Yes, she had gone there willingly, and yes, she had wrestled with Bobby. But when Jeff began to unbutton her pants and Todd was pulling them off, she told him to stop. The lights were then shut off, and the boys began leaning over her, undressing her, holding her down. She admits saying, “Who is this?” and “Who is by me?” but in a confused and frightened way, not a playful one. She said whenever she expressed concern, the boys told her to shut up and not worry. She also said one of them joked, “This is like an orgy,” to which she replied, “No, more like a gang bang.”
She said she was forced into oral sex with the boys, that her arms and legs were held down, and that she was confused and scared and worried that if she didn’t go along, they might become violent.
When Bobby led her to the back room, she says she was crying. Although she never yelled for help — “I thought they were my friends” — she says she told Bobby she wanted to stop and he didn’t.
During the trial, she said, “My whole body was numb. It happened so fast. The situation was out of control. I couldn’t handle it.”
She also denied that Bobby, her ex-boyfriend, asked her if she wanted to have sex. “If he had asked I would have told him no.”
She also told police the boys were drunk and, in addition to the talk about the bottle, made jokes about taking pictures.
When she got home, she was sore and confused. She worked that day at a nursing home, and the next morning, told her sister what had happened.
“They raped me,” she said, crying.
Her sister later told police: “At first I was upset that she would let them do that to her. But then I asked for details and decided it was not her fault.”
That night, Paul called her house, asked how she was doing. “I told him I was sore and he said, ‘Well, all’s good in fun,’ and he said the guys were worried about something getting out.”
It would get out.
And they were right to be worried.
‘Nothing to hide’
Sgt. Bob Dietrich, whose straw-colored hair matches his mustache, has been with the Saline police department 18 years. He said he knew from the start “this case would be a pain in the butt.” Linda had left school Monday after telling her story to the school counselor and had gone to a hospital emergency room, explaining that she had been raped. Under law, this requires a police report.
After taking her statement — “she was pretty shook up” — Dietrich sent officers out to pick up the five boys for questioning.
Four were not home.
Bobby Shier was the fifth.
He was in his father’s apartment, and his father had just left. When the knock came, he thought about not answering the door. He answered it anyhow. He was not obligated to go with the officers, but he did, he said, because one of them barked, “Do you know what the word arrest means?”
At the station, he told them his version of what happened, all the graphic details, without a lawyer present, because, he said, “I didn’t have anything to hide.”
Had he not done this, even Dietrich admitted, “he might never have been charged.”
But Bobby Shier was not the type to hold much back. He was cocky, vocal — his football teammates say, “You always knew where he was on the field” — and he knew some of the police because, after all, this is a small town, and so, on tape, he told the story of that night in his typical fashion, which some call “flippant” and others call “Bobby.” There was no regret for what happened. He felt he had done nothing wrong.
“It was consensual,” he said. “She never said ‘no’ or ‘quit.’ “
A few weeks later, he was picked up again to take a polygraph test. During that conversation with Dietrich — which once again, Bobby agreed to without a lawyer — he made the most damaging statement of all.
Dietrich: “Why don’t we back up to the beginning of the night. Who was talking about what?”
Bobby: “Me, Chris, Todd, we planned on gang-banging her, all of us.”
Dietrich: “Was that the exact word used, ‘gang bang?’ “
Bobby: “Ahhh . . . I wasn’t saying that we could all do her, it was Chris and Todd saying how we could all mess around with her and see how many guys she could do.”
Dietrich: “What made them think that?”
Bobby: “She has a reputation of sleeping with a lot of guys. . . . “
Dietrich: “What words did you use? It’s OK. You’re not going to tell me anything I haven’t heard before.”
Bobby: “OK, words like, maybe we can double-team her or triple-team, something like that. I already knew what she was like . . . “
When he was done talking, they didn’t even administer a polygraph because, the police chief now says, “He wasn’t denying anything. What would we polygraph him on?”
This is one of the points being challenged today.
Meanwhile, Jeff and Todd hadn’t even made police statements, and the others had done so only with lawyers. None of them was charged.
But Bobby? Well. This was too much to ignore. Two full statements, in his own brazen words. The reports went to the Washtenaw County prosecutor’s office, and prosecutor Brian Mackie, who had been elected on a tough stance on sexual assault crimes, saw plenty to go on.
“To the untrained eye, he appeared to be the ringleader,” Mackie said.
“You bet we were gonna use those statements.”
Bobby Shier, who said he had “nothing to hide,” had just taken his first step toward jail.
What the jury heard
In the small, lower-level apartment where he and Bobby used to live, Robert Shier, Bobby’s father, a beefy autoworker with a straightforward manner, sits with numerous friends, including the Mills family, whose son Todd was part of this whole mess. Todd admits to sexual encounters that night with Linda, but, like the others, has not been charged and probably never will be. Without a statement like Bobby’s, it’s too much “he said, she said.” Too hard to prove.
Such an odd assembly, one family luckier than the other. They sip coffee together and do what the whole town has been doing for months. Talk about the case. There are some of Bobby’s sports trophies on the shelves, and some photos of him on the table. Although he phones frequently from jail, the last time they all saw him free was at the trial.
“We didn’t meet our lawyer until 15 minutes before it began,” Robert Shier recalled. “That’s my fault. I didn’t know how it all worked. I said, ‘Aren’t the other boys gonna testify?’ He said they weren’t.
“Hindsight is 20/20. Bobby shouldn’t have talked to the police without a lawyer. And then, at the trial, I couldn’t afford private, so I had to go with the public defender. Our guy (Lorne Brown) did a good job, but (Linda) got up there and started crying . . . “
Bobby never testified. The prosecution simply played the tapes of his two statements, and a police officer later admitted, “You could see it in the jury’s eyes. When he said, ‘We planned to gang-bang her’ . . . I knew it was over.”
Brown, the defense attorney, argued that lewd circumstances don’t mean rape. Nine women and three men were on the jury. The trial lasted two days. The deliberation lasted 2 1/2 hours. During that time, Bobby read the sports section of the local paper, looking for news of his football team.
Then the jury came back.
And that was the end of football.
“It was rape,” Mackie says now. “The jury said it was rape, and it was.”
“I’m not surprised Bobby denies it,” said Eric Gutenberg, the assistant prosecutor who argued the case. “He feels if he didn’t tie her ankles to the table, he didn’t rape her. He wasn’t looking for the signs.”
“He showed no remorse,” said Phil King, the probation officer who, after a two-hour conversation with Bobby, labeled him “a threat to the community,” recommended extensive psychotherapy and suggested a sentence of five to 20 years in jail. “He still denies doing anything wrong.”
What if he believes he’s innocent?
“Well, then, there’s something wrong with him.”
Here, in the Shier apartment — and elsewhere in Saline — they disagree. They talk about the preliminary hearing, where Judge John Collins asked the prosecution: “Are you sure you really want to try this case?” They question the way Bobby was interrogated, claiming he was led to say certain things.
And, as you might expect, they talk about Linda. How she had consensual sex with Bobby just a few weeks before that night, and did the same with Jeff the weekend prior. She admitted this in court.
Besides, they say, she hardly behaves like a victim. They claim she was out with a boy two days after the incident — the boy confirms this, although it was “just as friends” — and, after Bobby’s conviction, she was seen at a party hoisting a beer and yelling: “I put that son of a bitch behind bars.”
They argue that the rape charge was something Linda made up to stay out of trouble with her mother. They claim Linda is starved for attention and cite countless boys she has supposedly slept with. (Some, when contacted for this article, admitted sexual relations. Others denied it.)
Finally, they point to another party, just a few weeks after the incident. There, three witnesses confirm, Linda danced and flirted and got drunk on beer. She hung on different boys, kissed them, and at one point, a guest said,
“was on the floor, laughing, letting boys flick their cigarette ashes on her head.”
Photos substantiate this.
Robert Shier has the photos in front of him.
“How can somebody who was just raped be out there acting like that?” he asked, holding a picture. “Does that seem like someone who’s traumatized?”
Reputation on trial
The rape shield law, which Michigan adopted 20 years ago, forbids bringing an alleged rape victim’s sexual history into a case. It was designed, partly, to reduce a victim’s possible humiliation at trial. But it does nothing about small-town humiliation once the trial is over.
So it does not stop the passing shouts of “whore” or “slut” that have gone on for a year, nor does it stop certain football players from vowing revenge, because Bobby’s arrest disrupted their perfect season. It does not stop people from driving up to the fast-food window where Linda now works, buying food and dropping the money on the pavement.
A few miles away from the Shiers’ apartment, on a snowy weekday afternoon, Linda’s mother sits inside the small country store she owns on one of Saline’s main streets. Her daughter — who, when asked to be interviewed for this article, said, “Thank you for asking me. You’re the first person who’s wanted to hear my side of the story” — was later advised by her lawyer to wait.
But her mother, for the first time, has agreed to talk.
She is in tears.
This is the other side of the story.
“We have heard all the rumors, believe me, we have,” she said. “And I know all about my daughter. I know what she does. But none of those people were with me in that emergency room. . . . None of them saw the blood on her underwear. . . . None of them saw the swelling which was so bad, she couldn’t even urinate. . . .
“Those people weren’t with us when my daughter couldn’t sleep, the nights she had to be sedated. These were her friends! Her friends did this to her! My daughter checks the locks every night, she’s afraid all the time. . . . She started to cry a few weeks ago and said, ‘Mom, I’ll never, ever have a normal life.’ . . .
“She’s had to switch schools. . . . She’s lost her senior year, her chance to graduate with her sister. . . .
“I’ve heard the people say she’s making all this up. But they don’t know my daughter. I know my daughter. She was so ashamed. She took great lengths not to tell me. There is no doubt in my mind she was raped. She doesn’t have the stamina to maintain a lie for this long.”
She stops talking, wipes her eyes, then says: “Why would she?”
Contrary to some of the popular theories, it was Linda’s mother, not Linda, who pushed to file criminal charges. Linda reportedly begged her mother to keep quiet. She said she couldn’t go through with it.
“I have to live with that,” the mother says now. “I made her go to court. And I would never, ever, put a child of mine through something like this again. . . . “
She said she sees the accused boys and their families all the time. They look down. They walk the other way. She cries again at the mention of Cindy Calhoun, Chris’s mother, who before the incident was a good friend. Their kids played soccer together. They used to meet at a Big Boy restaurant for breakfast.
They have not spoken since that night.
“It was crushing,” she said. “We’re shut out from so many families we used to know. Every school event, every open house, the minute we’re in the same room, the tension is so horrible. . . . “
Linda’s mother said she is aware of her daughter’s promiscuity. She knows of the assorted parties, even after the incident. She said Linda went through intense emotional swings, first shutting herself in, then pushing herself out.
“If you talk to rape counselors, that is not unusual,” she said. “And to be honest, I don’t care what she does if it helps her get through this.”
Nothing, she said, will change what happened on the lower level of the Woodcreek Court condo that Saturday morning.
“She was raped. She was . . . raped.”
She begins to cry again.
No age of innocence
What is really on trial in this case is what is on trial is most cases of acquaintance rape — the believability of the people involved. One side will argue the victim’s reputation should not be under attack, that even prostitutes can be raped. The other side will argue that making an accusation does not make it true, that people accuse for all kinds of reasons — witness the recent Derrick Coleman case — and besides, what does a girl think she’s doing joining two former sex partners and three of their friends at 4 a.m. at their place?
So when the sun rises on this winter Friday, the questions will float like paperweight snowflakes all the way down to Circuit Courtroom No. 5. If Linda truly felt violated, why didn’t she yell for help — from Paul in the other room, or his family upstairs? Then again, if Bobby admits she was crying, why didn’t he take that as a sign to stop?
Is it true that Sgt. Dietrich made a statement: “Bobby’s a stupid kid. We can get him to say anything,” as some of the parents claim? (He denies this.) And if this crime were so apparent, why weren’t the other boys charged?
Do you believe a friend named Georgie Carlton, who said Linda has never been the same since that night? Or do you believe a former friend named Alison Cotellesse, who says: “It’s all this big act.”
Five high school boys, not one of whom remembers her saying no.
One high school girl, who can’t understand how they don’t.
Rape? A ruse? Maybe the only real answer is that they’re all too young to be doing what they’re doing. How do you lasso a speeding generation? As Nancy Mills, Todd’s mother, says: “We never taught our children that sex was a spectator sport.”
Or as Linda’s mother says, between sobs, “Can you imagine the rage when you hear someone say they’re going to ‘gang-bang’ your daughter?”
It’s a case for our times, an athlete, a girl, sex, outrage, anger, accusations, all of it before they graduate.
And, this morning, Saline draws its daily line in the snow. Whom do you trust? Why did they do it? How, in one night, could the world change so fast? One kid’s in jail. One’s in a nightmare. You wonder if anyone is ever young anymore.