Two junior college football players pleaded not guilty Wednesday to sexually assaulting an 11-year-old runaway in an attack that may have involved eight other men.
Defense lawyers entered the pleas for Mackey Davis, 20, and Eddie Scott, 19, who did not speak during their arraignment on one count each of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. Each remained jailed on $55,000 bail.
Lawyer Jack Revvill said Davis was providing DNA samples that would show he did not have sex with the girl, who investigators say may have wandered into the apartment complex where the two men lived.
Several friends of the players who attended the arraignment described the pair as nice young men focused on getting ahead through football.
"I've seen them around plenty of females. They've never forced anything on anyone, ever," said Tascharra Lee, 17, who met the players last year when they played for Reedley College, a community college 25 miles from Fresno.
Police learned of the incident Saturday night from a couple who reported encountering the girl as she fled the apartment Davis and Scott shared, said Jeff Cardinale, a Fresno police spokesman.
The girl, who had run away from a group home in north Fresno on Friday, told the couple she had been assaulted, Cardinale said. Officers went to the apartment several minutes later and arrested Davis and Scott.
Investigators have said they found enough evidence in the apartment to believe several men participated in the assault.
Police questioned six other football players Sunday night, most of them residents of the same apartment complex who played at Fresno City College or Reedley College. Investigators were awaiting DNA test results and gathering more information before making more arrests.
Because of her age, police released little information about the girl. They said she was examined at a hospital Saturday night, treated for undisclosed injuries and placed under the care of Child Protective Services.
Davis and Scott played wide receiver at Reedley last season, according to a team roster.
Davis, of Port St. Lucie, Fla., has transferred to Fresno City College. Scott, of West Palm Beach, Fla., had signed to play for Ferris State University in Michigan and was taking a class at the Fresno school.
The lewd conduct charge incorporates the crimes for which police arrested Davis and Scott: child molestation and oral copulation, according to the Fresno County prosecutor's office.
If convicted, each could be sentenced to eight years in prison. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for July 24.
Residents in Fresno say they are weary over yet another hit to the city's reputation and sports programs, the Los Angeles Times reports. In 2004, an 18-year-old woman was killed near Fresno State's campus by a former basketball star who was trying to buy drugs. He was sentenced to life in prison just days before the alleged gang rape arrests, the newspaper notes.
"If in fact it's true, it's definitely a black mark on the city," Linda Yerke, a county employee, told the Los Angeles Times.
"With Fresno, it's kind of institutional. It's become kind of a joke," Revvill, Davis' attorney, told the newspaper. "It's a problem, because when Fresno gets negative national attention, it frequently involves student athletes."