NILES — The defense for one of the five Niles teenagers involved in a high-profile video sex case will be fighting several charges when the case goes to trial.
However, extortion will likely not be one of them.
Berrien County Trial Court Judge Scott Schofield bound 18-year-old Trey Nichols over for trial on Friday on 11 of 13 charges against him. Schofield dropped charges of extortion and first degree criminal sexual conduct, aiding and abetting, against Nichols, who pled not guilty on Friday and will go to trial Oct. 18.
Nichols is accused of recording a video on his cell phone of a female victim in the case having sex with a co-defendant on March 14.
Four of the five defendants, excluding Nichols, allegedly had that victim, who was 17 at the time, perform sex acts with them after they threatened they would post the video of one of the accused, Martise Washington, and her having sex on Facebook.
Nichols’ defense attorney Tat Parish argued in during the preliminary examination Friday that there is no evidence that his client was aware of any extortion plan, or that he helped the other defendants carry it out.
"He didn’t know that was going to be used as extortion," he said. "He was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
"He didn’t put it on Facebook. All he did was push the button and started the cell camera."
Berrien County Assistant Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli, though, said Nichols knew of the video scheme and that he "assisted and encouraged" the sexual acts that night. He added that Nichols testified on March 18 that he knew about the Facebook threats.
Schofield did not see clear evidence of extortion and dropped the two charges. Pierangeli said he may be back with additional evidence on the count of extortion at a hearing on July 8.
Parish, meanwhile, called the case against Nichols "no more than teenage sexting games" and said the charges against him are "excessive."
"This is a little more than a sexting case," Pierangeli countered. "Three girls testified they did not know they were being video taped."
Aside from several other counts related to the first victim, Nichols was also charged with four counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree.
Nichols already faced three counts of producing child sexually abusive material, one count each of extortion and first degree criminal sexual conduct and three counts of surveying unclothed persons. Aside from the first victim, he is accused of taping two other girls without their knowledge engaging in sex or undress.
Co-defendants Washington and Parnell Martin, both 18, were bound over for trial on Wednesday. Martell Miller’s preliminary examination will likely wrap up Monday morning, while a fifth defendant, Leon Murphy, accepted a plea deal and will testify against the other four. Murphy is scheduled to be sentenced July 5.
Schofield, at Parish’s request, dropped Nichols’ bond from $150,000 to $15,000. If Nichols is bonded out, he would be confined to his parents’ home and be ordered to wear a tether bound.
A pre-trial motion has been set for July 15 to discuss whether to consolidate Nichols’ case in with the other three defendants facing trials.
Staff writer Tom Moor: