"It was hard for everybody," juror Michele A. Grimes said as she left the Essex County courthouse, in which she has spent most of the last five months.
The Glen Ridge case gained national attention both because of its nature - the rape involved a baseball bat and broomstick and a basement filled with a small town's sports stars - and because it threw a spotlight on the rights and treatment of mentally retarded people.
Prosecutors hoped their victory would encourage others to press charges when the victims were retarded.
"We're hoping to send a very strong message," said Robert D. Laurino, head of the Essex County Prosecutor's sex-crimes unit. "In the past, sometimes because the victim may have been impaired, she would be deemed not to be credible.
"We have gotten calls from other states that have similar cases and have taken heart that an office of our nature would go forward with this type of prosecution. . . . I think you will see more cases of this nature going forward."
In reaching the verdict, jurors rejected defense arguments that on March 1, 1989, the retarded woman, then 17, initiated the sex acts and enjoyed them, and that her mother was partially to blame.
"That's a good defense, to blame the victim. But I don't think the jury felt it was the woman's fault," said juror Donald E. Murray, a computer salesman. "I felt the jury thought there was not a woman alive who would want that done to her."
The three men convicted of rape - Christopher Archer, 20, and twins Kevin and Kyle Scherzer, 22 - could go to prison for as long as 30 years. Bryant Grober, 21, was found guilty of a third-degree crime of conspiracy and is not expected to serve time, said prosecutor Glenn D. Goldberg.
Despite prosecutors' arguments, both Superior Court Judge R. Benjamin Cohen and an appellate court allowed the men to remain free until sentencing, scheduled for April 23. Prosecutors said they would appeal the bail decision to the State Supreme Court today.
"These defendants are rapists. They are not 'fool-arounds.' They are not 'pranksters,' " Laurino said, quoting terms used by a defense attorney in the trial. Laurino said they engaged in "vile and inexcusable behavior."
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, said they expected to appeal the verdict.
"The case is a tragedy. It has been a tragedy throughout," said Grober's attorney, Alan Zegas. "All of the proceedings from the beginning to the end were fraught with prejudice."
After months of testimony, one juror was dismissed from the case because he was leading prayer groups for the retarded woman. Another was let go because she said she didn't believe expert witnesses who testified for the prosecution. Last week, juror Dawn Scott, who cried when the verdict was read,
sent a note to the judge saying she was being pressured by a male juror who had worked with retarded people and said they needed love and affection. Last Friday, she was heard from the jury room shouting, "Get that bat out of here. I don't trust you."
Shortly before 11 a.m. yesterday, courtroom spectators heard jurors cheer and one yell a victorious "yes" from a closed room, the first hint that they were cutting short their eighth day of deliberations to pronounce a verdict. The courtroom quickly filled to overflowing with lawyers, reporters from scores of newspapers and all major networks, and the defendants' friends and relatives, who armed themselves with rosary beads and tissues.
Tears streamed down the face of one defendant's girlfriend even before the verdict was disclosed.
The jury decided that the young woman was legally mentally defective, meaning she did not understand that she could say no when the athletes asked her to participate in several sex acts four years ago. Prosecutors already have received requests for advice from officials in North and South Carolina who are trying rape cases in which the victims were retarded.
Jurors convicted Archer and Kevin Scherzer of two counts of first-degree rape for inserting a baseball bat or broomstick into the woman's vagina or for instructing her to finger herself. One of the counts hinged on the woman's inability to realize that she could say no - and whether the defendants knew of that inability. The other count dealt with force or coercion.
Kyle Scherzer also was convicted of raping the young woman through the use of force or coercion, and of a lesser offense of attempted rape of a mentally defective person. The three men convicted of rape now will be evaluated at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center at Avenel. If psychiatrists and psychologists find them to be "repetitive and compulsive sex offenders," the judge could send them to the center for treatment for an indefinite period of time, Laurino said.
The seven women and five men on the jury were most lenient with Grober, who bit his lower lip as Cohen read the verdict. Grober was found not guilty of rape charges even though his lawyer conceded that the young woman had performed oral sex on him.
Murray said the jurors didn't think Grober knew the retarded woman well enough to determine whether she realized she could say no.
"Since he knew her the least, the jury felt that he was responsible the least," Murray said. "I don't think anybody denied what happened. The question became, what was his knowledge of the whole situation."
Glen Ridge residents testified that the three other men had known the woman for years and that the Scherzers were present when she was 5 years old and neighborhood children made her eat dog feces. Those three were convicted of second-degree conspiracy to rape the young woman, while Grober was found guilty only of a lesser charge of conspiracy to commit aggravated criminal sexual contact, which involves touching but no penetration.
All four were acquitted on the actual sexual-contact charges.
Prosecutors argued that bail should be revoked and the men incarcerated immediately, especially Archer, who, they told the judge in open court, had raped another woman in college. That woman never pressed charges, and prosecutors said they were ordered not to divulge details of the incident.
Once the verdict was announced, the trial took on a circus-like atmosphere as newspaper photographers and television camera crews - previously forbidden
from the eighth-floor hallway - set up their equipment and lay in wait for the defendants and their families to come out of the courtroom. The defendants themselves avoided the exposure by taking the judge's private elevator.
"Drop dead!" one of the Scherzer relatives yelled as she passed by reporters and disappeared in an elevator.
The defendants' parents, many of whom were in court every day since mid- October, remained stoic as the verdict was read and refused to discuss the outcome.
"Get lost, get lost," Nathan Grober, Bryant's father, told reporters inside the courtroom. "Enough is enough."
Nearby, prosecutors and detectives exchanged hugs and handshakes.
"I feel numb," Laurino said.
Neither the young woman, now 21, nor her parents were in court yesterday, but Laurino said he called them in the afternoon. He would not comment on their reaction to the verdict.
Members of women's and victims' rights groups who have monitored the trial celebrated the verdict but decried the judge's ruling to let the men out on bail.
"The jury was able to see around the rape myths and convict on the facts," said Christine McGoey, a coordinator of the Essex County chapter of the National Organization for Women. But, she added, "I absolutely think if they were black they would be going to jail. We would be calling this a wilding," she said, referring to the rape of a Central Park jogger by a group of black youths.
Wayne Hauser, leader of Newark's chapter of the Guardian Angels, said he ''salutes" the jury for coming through with a verdict "that represents respect and dignity for women in general and for mentally defective (people) and rape victims in particular.
"We hope that the sentencing represents just deserts," he said.
The jury's most difficult decision was whether or not the young woman understood her right to say no and, eventually, whether the athletes knew that she did not comprehend that right, said juror Liboria Alequin. Initially, he said, 10 jurors agreed that the young woman did not understand that right, but two thought otherwise.
"It took a while for us," said Alequin, a Newark custodian. "We gathered up all the evidence. . . . I believed that the boys knew all the time."
The young woman, who has an I.Q. of 64, testified that she was just following the athletes' instructions when she fingered herself, performed fellatio and allowed them to insert a narrow, wooden bat, a broomstick and another stick into her vagina. A fifth young man, Richard Corcoran Jr., who the woman said wielded the stick, also has been charged with rape and could be tried later.
The retarded woman told jurors that she was playing basketball in a neighborhood park when Archer invited her to join him and 12 other football, baseball and wrestling team members in the Scherzers' basement. She went, she said, because he promised her a date with his brother, Paul Archer, who also was there.
The date never occurred.
Ultimately, Paul Archer pleaded guilty to a lesser offense and received probation. He also testified - and confirmed that his brother and Kevin Scherzer had their hands on the implements inserted into the woman. He said that Kyle Scherzer prepared the bat and broom by placing plastic garbage bags over them and smearing them with vaseline, and that Grober received oral sex.