Jurors reached a verdict Thursday in the first trial over the alleged sexual assault of a Liberty County middle school girl by 20 men and boys over several months two years ago.
Eric McGowen, 20, was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child. They sentenced him to 99 years in prison.
Judge Mark Morefield ruled that McGowen's trial would continue even though he hasn't been seen since disappearing during a break in testimony Wednesday, the trial's first day.
McGowen had been free on $35,000 bail. Morefield issued a bench warrant for his arrest and increased his bail to $250,000. Liberty County sheriff's deputies said they found McGowen's vehicle abandoned in Cleveland.
Community activist Quanell X said he has spoken to McGowen to try to convince him to turn himself in, but he refused. Quanell X said he believed McGowen may be suicidal.
McGowen was among 14 adults accused of sexually assaulting the then-11-year-old girl during a nearly three-month span in 2010. All six juveniles and two adults who were charged have pleaded guilty.
Prosecutors said the girl, who was 11 years old at the time, was sexually assaulted on at least five occasions from mid-September through early December of 2010 by 20 men and boys from her town, Cleveland, which is about 45 miles northeast of Houston.
Police began investigating after one of the girl's classmates told a teacher he saw video of her being sexually assaulted in an abandoned trailer.
The girl briefly broke down in tears as jurors were shown a few minutes of video of the alleged sexual assault in October 2010.
She described another encounter that November that started in a different Cleveland home and continued at a nearby abandoned trailer. She told jurors that McGowen assaulted her with a beer bottle during that incident.
A forensic nurse said she examined the girl and found a huge scab and scrape on her back, which were consistent with severe rug burns. Her private area also showed signs consistent with sexual abuse, the nurse testified.
The two men who pleaded guilty and one of the juveniles, who has since turned 18, also testified against McGowen. The two men are serving 15-year prison terms while the juveniles in the case each received suspended seven-year prison terms.
The case sparked outrage in Cleveland, and early on, some residents suggested the girl was partly responsible because they say she wore makeup, looked older than her age and wasn't properly supervised by her parents, drawing widespread condemnation.
The case also has been complicated by a belief among many in the predominantly black neighborhood where several of the suspects live that the arrests were racially motivated. All of the suspects are black, while the girl is Hispanic.
Like McGowen, most of the remaining 11 defendants in the case face charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child. Four face a charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child.