A Franklin student who sexually assaulted two fellow volleyball team members on a school bus after a trip to a game in Northampton County was escorted to jail in tears after she pleaded no contest to two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery.
Aerial Darden, who was 17 at the time of the offense and a senior team captain, organized a group that held down a 13-year-old teammate, placed a pillow over her face and touched her inappropriately.
The victim was on her first trip with the team.
The attack came after Darden and others held the arms and legs of a 15-year-old teammate, covered her mouth and attempted to remove her underwear before the victim freed herself.
Darden, now 18, will spend six months in jail and was tried as an adult.
"You were in a leadership position," said Judge W. Revell Lewis, III. "You used your leadership skills to commit a crime."
Lewis said victims' impact statements showed they are being harassed so severely at Franklin High School in the wake of the assaults that they were thinking of transferring.
Darden was charged with nine counts, both felonies and misdemeanors, including aggravated sexual battery while being part of a mob and carnal knowledge of a child.
Commonwealth's Attorney Bruce Jones said the victims and their parents endorsed the plea agreement. They were glad their children would not have to testify had the case gone to trial, he said.
Four other girls, all juveniles, faced similar charges and pleaded guilty in juvenile court. Each was sentenced to 60 days in jail.
The incident occurred Aug. 26, 2013, as junior and senior varsity teams from Franklin High were returning after games against Northampton High.
Evidence presented showed Darden enlisted the aid of other team members and sexually assaulted the girls soon after leaving Eastville on the bus ride back home.
According to court documents and evidence offered by Jones, Darden sought to have sex with the 15-year-old girl. When the girl refused, she and a senior team member hatched a plan to hold them down and assault her.
When the bus arrived in Franklin, one of the girls who assisted Darden in holding the girls down said, "What happened on the bus, stays on the bus."
A few weeks later, one of the perpetrators told her cross-country coach and the school principal that girls were held down and assaulted by Darden.
During the school investigation that followed, the victims came forward and told officials what happened to them.
He said there was a possibility Darden would have to register as a sex offender. That would be decided by the state police, Jones said.
Defense attorney Justin Bush said his client had a clean record and was an honor student who had been accepted to college.