Maryland prosecutors announced Friday that they planned to drop charges against two immigrant teens accused of sexually assaulting a classmate in a high school bathroom stall after the case drew outrage from the White House and news outlets across the country.
Henry Sanchez Milian, 18, and Jose Montano, 17, were ordered released from custody Friday morning after “substantial inconsistencies” emerged in witnesses’ accounts of what happened, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said at a press conference following a court hearing in the case. His office did not immediately return VICE News’ request for comment.
The case drew national scrutiny and attention from the White House because both boys were immigrants who only recently entered the United States. Sanchez Milian is also undocumented. Montano’s immigration status is not publicly known — Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials declined to comment because he is underage.
In mid-March, when details of the case were still unclear, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the matter demonstrated a need for a crackdown on immigration.
“I think part of the reason the president has made illegal immigration and crackdown such a big deal is because of tragedies like this,” Spicer remarked after a reporter asked him about the case. “Immigration pays its toll on our people if it’s done — if it’s not done legally. And this is another example, and it’s why the president is so passionate about this.”
Spicer also called the crime “horrendous and horrible and disgusting.”
According to the 14-year-old victim, Sanchez Milian and Montano pushed her into a bathroom stall at Rockville High School and repeatedly raped her as she tried to escape. But “after a painstaking investigation and review of these matters, we have concluded that the facts of this case do not support the charges originally filed,” McCarthy said in a statement.
Sanchez Milian and Montano’s attorney insisted for weeks that the encounter was consensual. “I think that he is being used as an unjust scapegoat by the opponents of recent immigration practices,” Andrew Jezic, Sanchez Milian’s lawyer, told the Washington Post.
However, both Sanchez Milian and Montano will face other charges, attorneys said Friday: Sanchez Milian has been charged with possession of child pornography — reportedly of photos sent by the alleged victim — while Montano will be charged for possessing and distributing those images in juvenile court.
At a Friday press briefing, deputy Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to say whether Spicer would amend his comments. “We’re always looking to protect the American people. Sean was speaking about what he knew at the time,” Sanders said.“I don’t want to retract anything without further information in front of me.”
As of now, it’s unclear what this will mean for the boys’ immigration status — and for their families’ status: Sanchez Milian’s father was detained by ICE in late March after the agency discovered he was also undocumented, according to an ICE statement.