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Rock Hill teens who allegedly attacked girls to stay in jail

The 14-year-old defendant slumped silently in his chair, his eyes rolling, in a court hearing being held for one reason only - to see if he would get out of jail.

Would this child - who apparently wants to be an adult so badly and so fast, allegedly with four other guys around the same age who want to be in a gang - be released after being charged with jumping and beating two 16-year-old girls on a city street?

Not only did the five kids scratch and bruise the girls, a policeman testified Tuesday, they cursed at police when caught near First Calvary Baptist Church at the north end of Crawford Road.

That is a church where an elderly day care is housed, where all are welcome, and the sign says so.

Yet these teens - three of them 15, two of them 14 - were belligerent when being booked for assault by a mob, police testified. They were disruptive in juvenile detention in Columbia for a week, police said.

And then the topper - just Tuesday on the way to court - the boys, according to police testimony, in front of a transport officer on the way to court Tuesday, said that their plan was to get out of jail, "smoke a blunt, have sex, and get with their boys."

A "blunt" is a hollowed-out cigar filled with marijuana. "Sex" needs no clarification.

This came after at least one of the defendants told police after arrest that when released from jail, he would "go back and shoot up the block," testimony showed Tuesday.

A block where a church sits, and an elderly day care sits, and houses filled with real people sit.

The slumping kid, the first of the five to appear in court, happened to look up, and his eyes closed for a moment, because sitting on the judicial bench was a small, gentle-speaking man who described himself as a "visiting judge."

Gene Morehead has been a Family Court judge for 27 years in Florence. Family Court judges often travel for weeks at a time to other counties. This week was York County for Morehead - a 65-year-old man whose whole life has been about justice involving children in South Carolina.

Judge Morehead said in court he does not know if there is a gang problem in Rock Hill, but he sure wasn't going to take any chances at finding out by letting this kid or the other four walk out after hearing what he heard Tuesday.

The Herald is not using the names of the juveniles involved. The important thing is not the names, anyway. The important thing is Judge Morehead of Florence stood up for the people of Rock Hill - people he will never meet.

People who live in that neighborhood, and the victims.

A public defender asked that the 14-year-old be released to his mother, who testified that the kid is in alternative middle school and had no previous criminal record. The mother also claimed that she had no idea her son, or the other boys, whom she knows, are involved with gangs.

The defense lawyer "might be able to sleep at night, but I would have nightmares," Judge Morehead told that silent courtroom, about what might happen if he released the boy from jail.

The problem is these kids, according to police testimony, have told everybody they have met for a week - starting with the victims and the police who caught them - that they want to be gang-bangers.

The prosecutor, longtime juvenile solicitor Whitney Payne, made it clear Tuesday that the defendants themselves spoke of plans to be in a gang. The gang at issue is something called the Folk Nation, which is nothing short of danger to anybody who ever comes near it, whether as members or victims.

The Folk Nation, whether these kids are trying to be part of it or not, has historically sold dope to kids and used violence like regular kids use pencils and paper.

Payne called the incident "very serious," asking that all five defendants remain in jail to protect the public.

The "yelling and making gang-type signs" started upon arrest and continued until Tuesday, testimony showed.

The judge then explained that he was keeping all in jail to protect their victims, the community - and the kids themselves. The judge repeatedly said in court that keeping the teens in jail would protect them, too.

He told that to the families of each defendant - all five had at least one family member there, as required by law.

"I don't want you to get hurt, and I don't want anyone else to get hurt," Judge Morehead said to that kid slumped in the chair.

Yet the judge stood as firm and tough as the wooden bench he sat upon.

The threats made, the actions taken by the defendants in the past week, "may be a bunch of guys acting like big shots, it may be games...," the judge said. "But it may be initiation. That's what petrifies me."

The judge used the word "petrified" three times, because he was acting to protect a public that should be petrified of beatings. The two victims - who did not come to court Tuesday - were "petrified," the judge said.

Another detention hearing will be held within 10 days. Then a third, within a month. The young men have the right to a fair trial within three months. All are presumed innocent. Tuesday was not a trial.

But until the next court hearing, the Rock Hill that Judge Morehead drove into Tuesday has a right to not have violence in the streets, if he can help it.

Because threats were made, the judge said, including threats the judge repeated, of "coming back and shooting up the whole block."

It is a block where real people, including the victims of this crime, live.

Judge Gene Morehead stood up for those people Tuesday.

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