Brenham’s Paradise Lost

A once-idylic town finds itself in the middle of a controversial rape case involving your four older boys and an eighth-grade girl, but the greatest crimes may have been abdication of responsibility by adults and a total absence of values in their teenagers.

THE RAPE CASE IN BRENHAM ATTRACTED NATIONAL attention for all the wrong reasons. It appeared to be a predictable melodrama, shocking and familiar at the same time. There was the setting of the sweetest town in Texas, the home of Blue Bell Ice Cream. There were the high school villains masquerading as hometown heroes: three senior boys, including a star quarterback, Matt Kenjura, and a star baseball player, Matt McIntyre, all charged with aggravated sexual assault, a felony, for raping a thirteen-year-old girl at a graduation party last June. (A sixteen-year-old boy, who has not been charged, was also allegedly involved in the incident.) Finally, there was the victim, her identity protected according to tradition, who had been tragically taken advantage of and was now—also according to tradition—being run out of town for speaking out. “Anytime you have a gang rape, that’s of interest,” a tabloid TV producer who subscribed to this version of events told me.

It was not until a pivotal day last December that another, far more complicated version of the story began to emerge. The occasion was a hearing in the Washington County courthouse to dismiss charges against one of the boys, Bryce Pflughaupt, a pug-nosed, slick-haired kid who kibitzed confidently with his parents and his attorneys before court began. Nearby, under the soaring art deco ceiling, sat Matt Kenjura, a high school heartthrob out of central casting, his blond hair lank and his starched white shirt gleaming. Kenjura’s anxious parents were there too, along with those of Matt McIntyre, who grimly waited for the proceedings to begin. The first hint of a deviation from the script came when the victim, Sara Evans, dressed for a picnic in khakis and a sleeveless denim shirt, her hair in a jaunty ponytail, scooted out of the courtroom as the hearing began. (The names of the girl and her family have been changed.) As it turned out, that was a good thing: She exited just before Pflughaupt’s attorney Jim James launched an attack on her character that would have made TV movie producers tear up their contracts.

Adopting a thespian’s stance, James began reading from notes Sara Evans had written to her close friends. “I had another dream where I f—ed M and M and M.K. separately,” he read in a monotone that in no way diminished the impact of the notes, which referenced both Kenjura and McIntyre as well as his client. “I remember that I was at the country club with M.K. and he was a lifeguard and I had just got done swimming and went to take a shower and it wouldn’t turn on and the water wouldn’t come out. So I had to get M.K. and he came and helped me and we f—ed.” After reading several more letters that reduced to rubble the image of a helpless thirteen-year-old victim (“I am going to f— who I want…and no one can stop me”), James called a series of anti—character witnesses from the high school.

Before court had begun, these kids had been sitting in the back, laughing and flipping through Mademoiselle (“Real Men Talk About Love, Sex, Dating, Their Egos & Why They Dump Great Women”). They were all white, all attractive, all neatly groomed, and in what would become a theme of the case, mostly present without parental supervision. They approached the stand and trashed Sara Evans’ reputation with gusto—making statements she would later hotly contest. She had never been trustworthy, one senior girl insisted. She had a list of boys she intended to sleep with, another testified. She wanted to extract $10,000 from each of the accused boys’ families, another swore. From the body language of Charles Sebesta, Washington County’s lean, loquacious prosecutor, you could sense a case going all to hell.

But more important, the hearing that day provided a startling glimpse of a lot more than the sexual fantasies of a thirteen-year-old girl. Something was going on in Brenham, something that revealed the true and darkest heart of this case. In that courtroom, sex was on parade. There was, for instance, the handsome young senior, another boy with his dark hair slicked off his face, who was not involved in the incident but nevertheless came with his own lawyer. Asked if he too had had sex with Sara Evans on the night in question, he took the Fifth. There was the eighth grader Sara had exchanged notes with, none too convincingly insisting that while Sara had used obscenities, she herself had not. (The courtroom that day was filled with teen witness after teen witness suddenly grown prudish, describing sexual intercourse as “effing.”) There was, finally, yet another ludicrously handsome senior who was pressed to admit that he had been guilty of inappropriate behavior at another party with another girl. “Did y’all do something against her wishes?” the district attorney asked. “ I don’t think so,” the boy replied, as if the idea had never occurred to him.

Indeed, if you listened carefully to the testimony that day, it was clear that this story had little to do with small town life or high school sports stars or ravaged virgins or loss of virtue. This tragedy had more to do with a loss of values, with the effects of mass culture, the shift of what had once been considered abnormal behavior toward something rapidly approaching the norm—in Brenham and in so many places around Texas and beyond. It was as if some insidious Pied Piper of downwardly defined deviancy had come to steal the children while their parents—and all the other adults responsible for them—had been fast, fast asleep.

MOMMY, WHAT’S SEX?” MY FIVE-YEAR-OLD SON, Sam, asked me a few months ago while we were driving to the grocery store. I looked into his eyes, which, magnified by his glasses, made him look even more wide-eyed, and saw no trace of guile.

Why do you want to know?” I asked.

Priscilla says she wants to have sex with me,”

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