PATERSON, N.J. - Five students at William Paterson University pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that they restrained and sexually assaulted a female student at a dormitory.
The five are charged with crimes including conspiracy, criminal restraint, and aggravated sexual assault. The attack allegedly occurred a few days before Thanksgiving on the campus in Wayne.
Before a courtroom packed with friends and supporters, 18-year-olds Jahmel Latimer of Hoboken, Darius Singleton of Jersey City, Garret Collick of Paterson, Noah Williams of Camden, and Tremaine Scott of Vineland entered the not-guilty pleas through their attorneys.
The students, who were being held in the Passaic County Jail, appeared in court in prison uniforms. They spoke only to answer questions from Superior Court Judge Marilyn Clark.
On a recommendation from the prosecution, the judge lowered bail for each from $200,000 to $50,000. Lisa Squitieri, senior assistant Passaic County prosecutor, said the defendants have local ties and are not considered a flight risk.
Ronald Ricci, a lawyer representing Latimer, said his client "is confident that he'll be found not guilty or that the charges won't be pursued."
"These are good kids with no criminal records. They're excellent kids from excellent families," he said.
About three dozen people crammed into the gallery for the proceeding; some hugged and shed tears outside the courtroom afterward. Most declined to comment, but those who did said they believed the defendants were the victims of trumped-up charges.
Kendra Garland, a junior at William Paterson, said she mentored all five students last summer as part of the Educational Opportunity Fund program, which provides financial assistance, counseling, and tutoring to students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
"I don't think they are guilty," Garland said. "I think they are being falsely accused. They're good boys. They laugh, they joke, but they're not disrespectful. We're praying they'll be back in school."
Leslie Ferguson, who attended the proceeding with daughter Lezette, a freshman at William Paterson, sounded a similar theme.
"They're very good young men on the right path," she said. "We just feel there's been a lot of things misconstrued, and we just want the whole thing investigated."