4 enter pleas in Oklahoma tattoo assault case

Four people charged with kidnapping a man, tattooing "RAPEST" on his forehead and shocking his genitals with a stun gun before beating him unconscious with a baseball bat pleaded guilty Tuesday to kidnapping and maiming charges.

Four people charged with kidnapping a man, tattooing "RAPEST" on his forehead and shocking his genitals with a stun gun before beating him unconscious with a baseball bat pleaded guilty Tuesday to kidnapping and maiming charges.

Three of the defendants also pleaded guilty to assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in a plea agreement with prosecutors while the fourth pleaded no contest to the charge during a hearing in Oklahoma County District Court. A no contest plea has the same effect as a guilty plea but is not an admission of guilt.

Richard Dellert, Zachary Provence, Kimberly Kirchler Vergara and Lorena Hodges were accused of attacking 18-year-old Stetson Johnson on April 17. Del City police have said they were punishing Johnson after one of the women accused him of trying to have sex with her.

Johnson denied the allegation, saying he is acquainted with all four suspects but has never tried to hurt any of them. Investigators have said there was no evidence to support the others' claim.

Special Judge Stephen Alcorn sentenced Dellert, 25, and Provence, 21, to a total of 10 years in prison followed by 10 years of probation. Vergara, 24, who clutched a Bible during the hearing, and Hodges, 33, were each sentenced to five years in prison and five years of probation in the attack a prosecutor characterized as "a brutal case of bullying."

"I think a mob mentality took over," First Assistant District Attorney Scott Rowland said.

Johnson told authorities he was restrained with duct tape while "RAPEST," apparently a misspelling of "rapist," was tattooed across his forehead and a phrase that resembles "I like little boys" was tattooed on his chest. The forehead tattoo has since been covered with another tattoo that looks like a bar code, and members of his family said he is working to have it removed.

Johnson said the attack began when he was thrown to the ground and kicked in the face "dozens of times" by two men while two women took turns using a stun gun on his genitals. He said the attackers yelled obscenities at him and later put him in a car and transported him to Eagle Lake in Del City, where he was beaten in the arms and head with a baseball bat and left unconscious.

Johnson said when he awoke, he walked to a nearby mobile home park where a resident called police.

He spent a week in the hospital, including three days in the intensive care unit, for treatment of a fractured skull, broken nose and other wounds sustained in the beating.

"There was a time when we thought his life was in danger because of his injuries," Rowland said, adding that Johnson and his family agreed with the sentences. Rowland called the punishments "a fair and just result."

Each of the defendants faced up to 20 years in prison for kidnapping, 10 years on the assault and battery charge and seven years for maiming.

All four have been held in the Oklahoma County Jail since shortly after the attack. Provence also pleaded guilty to burglary and concealing stolen property charges in connection with a December 2010 car burglary and was sentenced concurrently with the other charges.

Contacted after the hearing, Johnson's mother, Lucy Ford, said the sentences were fair and noted that pursuing lengthier prison terms would have required her son to testify against the defendants in court.

"That is something he did not want to do," she said.

Neither Johnson nor other members of his family attended Tuesday's hearing. Ford said her son has recovered from his injuries and is working with a private clinic to have the tattoo removed from his forehead free of charge.

Rowland said the men received lengthier sentences than the women because they were more culpable.

During the court hearing, Provence admitted to beating Johnson while Dellert, who entered the no contest plea to the assault and battery charge, admitted to tattooing him.

Dellert, who had a large tattoo on his left wrist, gave reporters a thumbs-up sign as he was led into the courtroom in handcuffs and leg shackles prior to the hearing.

Observers in the courtroom said they later saw him extend his middle finger toward members of the media before the hearing began. Alcorn told Dellert he would have sentenced him to an additional six months in prison if he had witnessed the obscene gesture.

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