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Dead California teen's family sue suspects in sexual assault case

Sheila Pott pauses in front of a portrait of her teenage daughter, Audrie Pott, at a news conference in San Jose, California April 15, 2013.
Sheila Pott pauses in front of a portrait of her teenage daughter, Audrie Pott, at a news conference in San Jose, California April 15, 2013.

By Laila Kearney

SAN JOSE, California (Reuters) - A California teen who family members say killed herself after classmates circulated a photo of her being sexually assaulted by three boys was also scribbled with "markings" that "served to taunt and demean her," her parents' lawyer said on Friday.

New details of events leading up to last September's suicide of Audrie Pott, 15, allegedly assaulted while passed out drunk during a party at a friend's home near San Jose emerged as the girl's parents spoke publicly for the first time about her death and filed suit against the three boys accused in the attack.

Her family says Pott was the latest victim in a disturbing series of cases involving girls or young women being brutalized by sexual assault, then further humiliated when electronic images of their attack are distributed via social media.

The three boys accused of violating her were arrested last week on suspicion of sexual assault by digital penetration and distributing a photo of a minor in sexual positions - both of which are felonies in California.

The sheriff of Santa Clara County, where the alleged assault took place, has said each boy also faces a misdemeanor count of inappropriate touching.

Lawyers for the young defendants issued a statement last week saying that news reports about the case were not accurate and that their clients should be "regarded as innocent."

"Most disturbing is the attempt to link (Audrie's) suicide to the specific actions of these three boys," attorneys Eric Geffon, Alan Lagod and Benjamin Williams said in the statement, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

A juvenile detention hearing for the three boys, all of them now 16 and described as onetime friends of Pott, was set for Tuesday, and the girls' parents said they would attend the proceedings.

'TAUNT AND DEMEAN HER'

A private attorney retained by the girl's family, Robert Allard, previously has asserted that Pott took her own life in a bout of anguish, shamed by circulation of a photo among her high school peers that captured her in the act of being sexually violated while unconscious.

On Monday, Allard further revealed that her body had been drawn on by her attackers, telling Reuters that "the markings in our view served to taunt and demean her."

The wrongful-death lawsuit, filed later in the day in Santa Clara County Superior Court, added that on the morning after the party Pott "awoke to discover that her shorts were off ... and that she had writings or drawings on her body, including near intimate parts."

The suit did not describe the markings, but Allard was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying that one of them bore "the name of someone that said, 'Blank was here,' written in marker on her leg."

In the days following the September 2 party, the lawsuit said, the boys made statements and displayed photographs depicting Pott in a way that "falsely indicated that Audrie consented to events ... to which she did not and could not consent."

The lawsuit singles out the three boys and their parents or guardians as defendants, though they are not identified by name in the complaint. Also named as defendants are the couple whose home was the scene of the party and alleged assault. Allard has said they were not home at the time, but their liquor cabinet was raided by youths attending the party.

'I CAN'T DO IT ANYMORE'

Allard was joined at a news conference about the case by Pott's father, mother and stepmother, who recounted how they were initially left baffled as to what prompted their daughter to hang herself in her bathroom. They said it was only after her funeral that rumors of an assault came to their attention and they started to piece together circumstances of the tragedy.

Sheila Pott, the girl's mother, said she had pleaded with her daughter to tell her "what was wrong" after the girl, obviously distraught, had called asking to be picked up early from school.

"'I can't do it anymore,'" the mother recounted her daughter as telling her, adding that she believed then that the girl was referring to bullying she had faced from peers since entering high school.

Added Lisa Pott, the girl's stepmother: "We had no idea what had happened to Audrie until after her memorial service."

Although no suicide note was left, relatives said their own private investigation ultimately uncovered online communications and texts from the girl that explained her death.

"We were able to find statements made by Audrie herself in the last week of her life that draws a direct connection between her death and what the three young men did to her," Lisa Pott said.

Among numerous Facebook messages cited by her stepmother were postings that said: "Everyone knows about that night"; "The whole school is talking about it"; "My life is over." Allard said Pott named two of the suspects in her Facebook messages.

All three boys attended middle school and high school with Pott, who considered them to be her friends, her stepmother said. They all were members of the high school football team but were suspended from the squad following the assault, she said.

"While the world was a far better place when Audrie was alive, it will be a far safer place if these young men are put behind bars and held responsible for their actions," said her father, Larry Pott.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Paul Simao)

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