The father of a girl police say was gang-raped at a party by at least five men is defending three of them, saying they tried to get his daughter out of the apartment where she was attacked but were stymied by others who held them at gunpoint.
"These three had nothing to do with nothing; I don't know why they locked them up," the father said of Gregory Leary, 20; Timear Lewis, 19; and a 17-year-old whom authorities have not identified because of his age.
"My daughter said these guys were trying to help her," the father said.
The Associated Press does not identify sex crime victims and is not naming the father so as not to identify his daughter.
In all, five men and boys have been arrested on suspicion of raping the girl. The other suspects are ages 13 and 14.
According to police, the 7-year-old was prostituted out by her 15-year-old stepsister, who watched as she was raped by as many as seven men and boys at a party March 28. As many as a dozen people were at the party, held in a vacant apartment in a crime-plagued public housing complex not far from the New Jersey Statehouse.
Investigators said that soon after arriving, the older girl took money to have sex with several men at a party, including Leary. The teen then gave some of the money she had collected to the younger girl to let the men start touching her.
It soon escalated to rape, police said, and the men threatened to kill the child if she screamed or told anyone, according to police.
The girl later put on her clothes and left the apartment; her older sister stayed, police say. Two women found the child crying outside the apartment and walked her home, where police were waiting because the girls' parents had reported them missing.
Leary's lawyer suggested Thursday in court that the child had been pressured to make up the story.
"She was not raped, was not gang-raped," Robin Lord said. "I'm 100 percent certain that the 7-year-old was not sexually assaulted. The allegations will not be substantiated by any forensic evidence."
Lord said the girl's memory is "forever tainted" because of the fact that she's been given toys, gifts and money.
Leary is charged with aggravated sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. He made his first court appearance Thursday and was ordered held on $500,000 bail. He is also accused of statutory rape; police and his attorney say he has admitted to having sex with the 15-year-old.
Assistant Prosecutor said Jennifer Downing said Leary denied having sex with the younger girl. However, she said several witnesses at the party told police they saw Leary "on top of the 7-year-old" and engaging in intercourse with her.
The child was treated at a hospital, and police say there is DNA evidence of the crime. Police have said they expect additional arrests.
Timear Lewis is scheduled to make his first court appearance Friday.
The girl's father said he still believes his daughter was raped by "a lot" of men, just not the three he said helped her.
"If you had a gun pointed to your head, you wouldn't be able to do nothing, either," the father said.
Several family members also defended them Thursday outside the courthouse. Leary's mother, Robin David, who left the courtroom in tears, said her son didn't rape anyone.
"I feel terrible about my child and anyone else's who is involved in this," she said.