US marshals capture man who fled Texas rape trial

Associated Press

HOUSTON (AP) — A man who fled his trial a day before being convicted and sentenced in the repeated group sexual assault of an 11-year-old Southeast Texas girl was captured Tuesday after being a fugitive for nearly two weeks, authorities said.

Eric McGowen, 20, was arrested after being found in an apartment in northeast Houston, said Alfredo Perez, a spokesman for the Marshals Service. Information provided to the Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Task Force led officials to McGowen, said Perez.

The fugitive was apparently caught by surprise, as he was sitting on a toilet when authorities entered the apartment and arrested him, said Capt. Steve Greene, a spokesman for the Liberty County Sheriff's Office.

Task force members turned McGowen over to Texas Rangers, who took him back to Liberty County, where he was convicted, Perez said. By Tuesday afternoon, McGowen was in the Liberty County jail, Greene said. Six law enforcement agencies coordinated the search for McGowen.

Both Greene and Perez declined to release further details about what led authorities to the apartment or who McGowen had been staying with. The Liberty County District Attorney's Office and McGowen's attorney did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

The investigation regarding individuals who might have helped McGowen elude authorities continues, Greene said.

Authorities had been searching for McGowen since he fled his trial Aug. 29, the same day the girl tearfully testified about the attacks in her hometown of Cleveland, about 45 miles northeast of Houston. McGowen had been free on bail at the time and never came back to court after a break in testimony.

The trial in the nearby county seat of Liberty went on without him, and McGowen was convicted the next day of aggravated sexual assault of a child and sentenced to 99 years in prison.

McGowen was set to be formally sentenced in a Liberty courtroom Thursday before being transferred to the Texas prison system, Greene said.

McGowen was one of 20 men and boys who authorities say repeatedly sexually assaulted the girl on at least five occasions from mid-September through early December of 2010. He was the first defendant to stand trial in the case.

Before his trial, all six juveniles and two of the 14 adults charged had pleaded guilty. Since McGowen's conviction, four other adults have pleaded guilty and are set to be sentenced Sept. 21.

His disappearance was the latest twist in a case that divided the small 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.

Prosecutors' case against McGowen included a videotaped confession and testimony from nearly a dozen witnesses, including the girl, who is now 13. A defense attorney did not present any witnesses or evidence.