Eric McGowen, the first defendant to face trial in the repeated gang sexual assault of an 11-year-old Cleveland, Texas, girl, was convicted Thursday, but he was on the run after fleeing during a break before the verdict was announced, reports the Associated Press. McGowen, 20, who had been free on bail, was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child and sentenced to 99 years in prison. He was convicted of participating in a series of attacks on the girl in 2010. He was the first of the 20 — 14 adults and six juveniles — charged in the case to be tried.
Because McGowen was free on bail at the time he disappeared, authorities say, a security detail was not required to watch or follow him. The Liberty County Sheriff’s Office said he is believed to be armed and dangerous. McGowen’s disappearance was the latest twist in a case that divided the town of Cleveland, both because of the horrific allegations and suggestions from some residents that the girl was partly responsible because of her appearance. Police began investigating after one of the girl’s classmates told a teacher he saw video of her being sexually assaulted in an abandoned trailer in Cleveland, 45 miles northeast of Houston.