After rape charges dropped, suspects in 2017 Wrightsville Beach flotilla party case plea to assault

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Prosecutors dropped the rape charges against two men following a Wrightsville Beach party in 2017 after the men pled guilty to the charges of assault on a female and weapon charges.

One of the men, Genell Stephenson, 34, is at the Tabor Correctional Institute in Tabor City, after receiving a sentence of 11 – 23 months. He pled guilty to two counts of assault on a female and a charge of possession of a weapon by a convicted felon.

The other, Harvey Williams, 35, pled guilty to two counts of assault on a female possession of drug paraphernalia, receiving a sentence of 300 days, plus $3,412 in court costs. Williams was released from the New Hanover County Jail, where he had been held since his arrest on Nov. 26, 2017 until his guilty plea on Dec. 21.

Several charges against the men were dropped earlier in the proceedings, including charges of possession of cocaine and kidnapping.

The arrests came after the two women called police in the early hours of Sunday, Nov. 26, following the annual Holiday Flotilla boat parade in Wrightsville Beach, where people had gathered for a party at 342 Causeway Drive in The Moorings condominium building. The sexual assaults are alleged to have occurred at different areas outside of the apartment. In a July hearing where Williams failed to have his bond significantly reduced, the prosecution and defense attorneys laid out several elements of the events that occurred in the early morning hours of Nov. 26, where the two women, then ages 21 and 24, met the two men at Level 5 nightclub at 21 N. Front St. before leaving with the men to go to their car.

Both attorneys discussed video from downtown city cameras that showed the four walking to the car that was driven by Stephenson but owned by Williams then-fiance. Waters said that the video showed Stephenson leading, with the two women following, and Williams at the rear, walking slowly due to a foot injury.

Prosecutors also acknowledge that the evidence includes video taken from inside the car. While Andrew Waters, William’s defense attorney, said the video showed drug use in the car, the prosecutor disputed this, but added that the video from inside the car did not show that the women were in the car against their will.

Once in the car, one of the men received a call to come to the party at the Moorings, allegedly to deliver drugs, the prosecutor said. Wrightsville Beach police have said they found evidence of cocaine at the party.

Williams was out to celebrate his Nov. 25 birthday, Waters said. The prosecutor said that once they arrived at the Moorings, Stephenson told one woman to come with him, while the other was told to stay with Williams because she was his “birthday present.” While the prosecutor said Williams raped the woman in the back of the car, he also read from a police report where Williams claimed he was unable to achieve an erection.

Stephenson and the other woman went upstairs to the party before coming back down and retrieving the two from the car to go upstairs to the party.

The prosecutor said the four were in the party for about 20 minutes before they all went to a back patio area, where he said both men sexually assaulted the women. At some point during the attack, the prosecutor said, the two men switched women, resulting in two rape and sexual assault charges for each defendant.

From there, the victims were able to leave the party, where one contacted a family friend, who is also a doctor, and said they were sexually assaulted.

Waters told the judge that while there were a number of people at the party, none of them saw indications of “inappropriate behavior” by Williams or Stephenson.

Assistant District Attorney Lance  Oehrlein , the lead prosecutor in the case, said the case was hampered by uncooperative witnesses who didn’t want their reputation damaged by testifying on drug use.

“There was alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine at this party, and the adults that were there refused to cooperate with the investigation into whether these two young women were sexually assaulted,”  Oehrlein said. “They didn’t want to get involved. They didn’t want to look bad in front of their peers.”

New Hanover County public defender Jennifer Harjo, who represented Stephenson, said she couldn’t comment on the details of the case. However, she said it fit a pattern of defendants being under enormously high bonds that were impossible for them to meet, and being subjected to long incarceration times.

“People will sit in jail and get tired of waiting, so they’ll plead guilty to things they didn’t do,” Harjo said.

Both men had prior criminal records. Williams was in jail on a $750,000 bond, while Stephenson’s bond was $550,000.

Oehrlein disputed any allegation that Williams or Stephenson were denied a speedy trial, arguing that the two were indicted in February 2018 and arraigned in April 2018.

“We set it for trial as quickly as could,” Oehrlein said.  “To go from arrest to ready for trial for a D1 felony in less than 12 months, in this crowded court system, is pretty good.”

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